You Can Go Now, Mommy


letting go of our kids via @lizzylit
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“You can go now, Mommy.” 

My daughter’s words are so quiet I’m not sure I’ve heard her right.

It’s the first day of pre-kindergarten, and we’ve only been here six minutes. We held hands through the door and now I’m helping her settle in at her table with the Play-Doh and new friends, but none of the kids are talking to each other yet, so there’s no way she’s ready for me to leave . . . I lean in closer. “What, darling?”

“You can go now.”

I heard her right.

“Oh, okay. Okay. I guess, then, bye. Have a good day.”

I dart in for one final kiss on her cheek, and backpedal out of the classroom, unwilling to take my eyes off her. She gives me one tiny, sober wave, then ducks her head back down, focused on her Play-Doh.

letting go of our kids via @lizzylit

Out in the hallway, I start blinking hard and walking fast, not wanting any of the other moms to see what a wreck I am. Isn’t this backwards? Isn’t my four-year-old supposed to be the one crying and clinging as I try to pry her fingers off me so I can dance around my quiet, empty house and do whatever I want (mostly laundry) for three glorious hours?

I escape to the parking lot and hide in my goldfish-carpeted minivan. Eyes clouded with tears—too cloudy to drive—I flash back to a brown racetrack under a sunset sky. I’m eight, and I’m running with my dad, ready to run forever just to keep pace beside him. He’s slowing down for me, way down, and I’m pushing my little legs as fast as they’ll go. There’s no talking, just the slap of shoes and the rhythm of breathing. And I’m happy, so happy I think my heart might burst. After a while Dad puts a hand on my shoulder and says, “I’m going to do a couple of fast laps and then come back and we’ll run the final stretch together, is that okay?” I nod. “It’s okay, Dad. You can go now.” I watch him sprint away, the fastest man in the world, and on we run at our two different paces, and I’m still happy, knowing he’ll come back to me and we’ll run the last laps together. We’ll sprint to the end and he’ll let me win and we’ll collapse, gasping and giggling, onto the grass in the middle of the track.

And now I flash to my wedding day. It’s minutes before the Big Walk, and all the bridesmaids have just left to line up. All morning it’s been a blur of makeup and hair and flowers and grandmothers and mothers and sisters and girls, girls, everywhere, but now for six precious minutes, I’m alone in the bride room with my dad. His eyes are red and it’s almost time. We should probably be having some profound father-daughter moment, but I’m suddenly hot, so hot in this huge silk dress, so hot the room is spinning and—more importantly—my makeup is going shiny. I’m giggling, “I’m melting, I’m melting!” And Dad, ever the Fixer of My Problems, grabs the long cardboard box the florist used to carry the bouquets, and tells me to stick my arms out like a scarecrow, and he stands there in his tux and fans me till my adrenaline cools and my makeup is saved. We’re half-laughing, half-crying, Dad flapping a box in his tux and me holding a scarecrow pose in my gown, and we’re four feet away from each other but it still feels like hugging.

We’re still laugh-crying when a woman with a headset pops her head into the room. “It’s time to go now.”

Neither of us is really ready, but it’s time, and people are waiting. My husband-to-be is waiting.

Dad puts down the box and holds out his elbow. I take a breath and take his arm. The pianist starts to play: “Jessica’s Theme” from The Man from Snowy River, all tender notes in sentiment and swirls. We wait, and listen, and breathe. The music hits a crescendo of exquisite expression.

Headset Lady says, “You can go now.”

Doors open. We start walking, into a blur of smiles and waves and camera flashes, “Jessica’s Theme” now punctuated with “oohs” and “aaahs” from family and friends. Overwhelmed, I lose all sense of my dad. My head, my eyes, my heart, are everywhere else, with everyone else.

And halfway down the aisle, Dad squeezes my arm and leans in. “Can we slow down a little, Honey? Please?” He laughs a little in my ear, but I hear the tears in it. Happy tears, but still. “Yes, of course,” I say, realizing I have been sort of sprinting.

We slow down. This one last time, this final “final stretch,” I let Dad set the pace, and this time, he’s slower than I am. We’ll get there when he’s ready to get there. He’ll let go when he’s ready to let go. His steps are even and sure, and I know he’s counting every one.

And when we get to the end of the aisle and the preacher says, “Who gives this woman?”, Dad lifts my veil and places my husband’s hand on mine and says, “Her mother and I.” His voice doesn’t shake, and his kiss on my cheek tells me, You can go now. 

Still blinking tears in my van, I smile at the memory and marvel at my father, my mother—how’d you do it? hold on and let go?—and then I marvel at my daughter. Only four, and she gets it, this life. Maybe a little better than I do.

The next summer, I watch my mother and her sisters say good-bye to their beloved mother, the redhead with the laugh as big as New Jersey. One by one, they sit at her bedside, hold her tiny hand, and kiss her. One by one, they tell her, each in their own way: You can go now, Mom. She cannot speak, but her eyes say thank you.

And I realize, reluctantly, that life is all about holding on while you can, but letting go when it’s time. That’s the magic—the struggle, the wonder, the heartache—of childhood, of life: It’s over too soon, and while it lasts it’s a maddening whirlwind of joy and sorrow and affection and anger and a thousand bittersweet emotions all in the blender at once, exploding all over the kitchen. Making art or a mess, depending on how you look at it, what mood you’re in.

And the magic is in the whirlwind. It’s in the blender, the mess, the art. The magic is in the holding on, but it’s also in the letting go. It’s in the first-day pictures and the track meet medals and the wedding cake cutting, yes. But it’s also in the Play-Doh greetings and the sunset sprinting and the florist-box fanning. It’s in the vigil-keeping and the long goodbye. The magic is in the places in between the holding hands and letting go.

The magic is in taking turns being the one to say it first, the one to give permission. The magic is in letting yourself—sometimes making yourself—hold on a little tighter, and run a little slower, and enjoy the long walk with the one beside you. The magic is in the voice at the end, the quiet voice that gives you a nudge and gently whispers, You can go now.

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Author: Elizabeth Laing Thompson VIEW ALL AUTHORS POSTS

Elizabeth works from home as a writer, editor, diaper changer, baby snuggler, laundry slayer, not-so-gourmet chef, kid chauffeur, floor mopper, dog groomer, and tantrum tamer. She is always tired, but it's mostly the good kind.

18 comments

Comments
  • Betty Jo Wallace September 2, 2015 at 8:20 am

    So very beautiful Elizabeth…made me think of many such memories with my daughter…also made me think of the final “you can go now” as my father’s 96 year old body faltered and failed in May of this year…your head understands that it is time, but your heart — that’s another matter…

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 2, 2015 at 8:25 am

      Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss, Betty Jo. As I was writing this, I thought about my grandmother, who we lost last summer, and how she waited until we all gave her permission to go. That was the hardest letting go of all. Hugs to you.

  • Jeanie Shaw September 2, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Beautiful in so many ways, Elizabeth—Now filled with full fledged alligator tears while reliving precious memories.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 2, 2015 at 9:25 am

      I love the way you savor life and your family, Jeanie!

  • Geri Laing September 2, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Beautiful – I thought of Grandma, too. Life really is all about holding on and letting go. A reminder to treasure every moment…..

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 2, 2015 at 9:25 am

      Something you and Grandma have taught me so beautifully, Mom…

  • Sam Laing September 2, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Once again my daughter’s writing paints my face with smiles and tears, and fills my heart with joy and precious memories. I spent my best efforts as a father helping you to one day be married, and I was ecstatically happy for you then – and still am. Yet, like all parents feel as their children grow up, there is sadness at leaving behind a beautiful season of life. But then I continually realize that we are in a glorious season right now! – I get to watch my daughter and all of my children live their lives and raise their own children – and I get to be a part of it. How wonderful is that? God is so good. In spite of my weaknesses, mistakes, and shortcomings, God’s grace was then, and is now, the source of anything good in life – and of unending joy and encouragement.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 2, 2015 at 9:36 am

      As always, Dad, you teach me how to look at life, how to cross every new threshold. I hope I can navigate the changes as beautifully as you and Mom do. xoxo

  • Aisia September 2, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Beautiful! Just beautiful!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 2, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks, Aisia!

  • Erika Heinzle September 2, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    Thank you for posting this, Elizabeth. I can totally relate to all of it. I dropped off my 2 year old (my youngest) at preschool for the first time last week and she didn’t even shed a tear. It was harder for me than her. You made me think of my sweet moments with my dad before I walked down the aisle, and the day I told him “it’s okay to go” and he passed that afternoon. I’m now a blubbering mess and have to pull myself together at work. 😉 Thank you for reminding me of these sweet moments in the midst of my busy life. 🙂

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 2, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      Oh, wow, thanks for sharing that, Erika. So sweet that your youngest is so brave–I just dropped my 2-year-old off at preschool today, too, shortly after I posted this. Whew, I was kind of a mess. And I’m glad you have such wonderful memories with your dad. You must miss him terribly. -xoxo

  • Erika Walton Sitzberger September 2, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Just know you are blessed-

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 2, 2015 at 5:36 pm

      SO blessed, Erika—I never want to take it for granted.

  • Rod Keyeski September 3, 2015 at 2:22 am

    Wonderful! Sent this to Sarah as she has been a puddle since sending our twins (Josephine and Elizabeth – 5 yrs old) to Kindergarten this week. 🙁

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 3, 2015 at 7:05 am

      Oh, I feel her pain! I hope they’re having a great first week.

  • Jessica September 6, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    That was beautiful! I am so grateful for your parents and of course you and your writing. What’s amazing is that I don’t know any of you personally, but I love the books you all have written and most importantly your real life example. Thank you for continuing to share your heart with us. It really helps me to put things in perspective.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 7, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks, Jessica! I have never met so many of the people I keep up with here and on the FB page, but I feel totally connected to you, too! So glad this resonated with you–ever since I posted this, I have been thinking back on these moments…

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