At 4am this morning I put my baby on an airplane with a young girlfriend to take three flights halfway across the country to spend three weeks in Minnesota. They’ll be in the hinterland of her birthplace - so far north it's almost Canada - to a place she barely remembers since she hasn't been back since we moved to Idaho twelve years ago yesterday. I'm so excited for her to have a blast with a dear family we love on the biggest adventure of her lifetime thus far.
Three days ago we started packing for this adventure to her homeland and I started to get that pressure behind my eyes and that stinging in my throat that indicates THE TEARS are coming because of THE GROWTH and THE CHANGE. Truth be told they've been coming a lot over the past year. When she got her first iPhone. When she surpassed me in height. When she wrote badass feminist poetry unbeknownst to me and bravely recited it on a microphone at a slam in front of a packed house. When Dr. Brown taught her to drive a few months ago on the dirt roads of the Oregon Trail while we were camping. When I took her to the DMV to get her first official state ID card. When we went to the bank to open her first checking and savings accounts and get a debit card. When she got her first job as a youth activist a few weeks ago.
But when we started packing for this Minnesota trip those physical sensations came again. We were looking through our motley assortment of backpacks for her to select as a carry-on she picked a tan one. An ordinary canvas backpack her dad and I picked out fifteen years ago as her diaper bag. A bag that Dr. Brown and I wore on our backs all over the streets of Minneapolis on public transit with her tiny body tucked carefully in our Baby Bjorn on our fronts.
At the Delta counter they put barcoded ID bracelets on the girls for minors traveling alone and I stared at it and choked back that burning in my heart again because suddenly her whole life was flashing before me. She's had ID bracelets like that a few times before - also in Minnesota. Once when she first left my body in the hospital and again a few days later as she was transferred to an ICU for infants at another due to a traumatic birth situation. And again when she woke up one morning at 18-months-old with her eye swollen shut and a routine trip to urgent care turned into a serious life-threatening situation which landed us in the hospital for several days again.
I also remembered the last time she was on a plane - at the age of three we flew to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving with friends at Disneyland while I was nauseous and in the first trimester of my pregnancy with Alice. I thought about this as I speed walked through the airport terminal so I could track her Delta aircraft through the giant windows as it taxied down the runway towards takeoff hoping she remembered what I told her about popping her ears and how to use the personal seat fan if it got too hot and suddenly the pressure behind my eyes and the stinging in my throat could no longer be contained.
She recently got to experience a fun family 4-H type camp in northern Idaho for eight days with other family friends but this three weeks she'll be gone is the longest time we've been apart from her in her whole life. I'm acutely aware that this is not only training for what is to come in just a few years from now when she leaves for college. I'm acutely aware of how important these adventures are for her growth and the opportunity for life experiences we aren't able to give her with the generous help of our friends. It's still an experience that's super hard on a mama's heart. I'm acutely aware of how much her life and her stories are growing apart from mine into her individual powerful self and are hers alone to experience and tell, not mine. And, finally, I'm also acutely aware she's not lost in a foreign country or ripped from my soul and I'm not seeking asylum or refuge from anything but this human condition called love and motherhood - an affliction of the heart that is so strong and powerful and universal and something we can all understand.