Posted in writing

A Celebration of Independence

Late last month, my husband and I drove our older daughter to the Little Rock airport (recently renamed the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport – a mouthful!) after a lovely two-week visit with her. It’s always very difficult for us to make that drive to send her back to her post-doc position in Seattle. She’s lived there a little over four years, and it was hard enough to see her move that far away from her family the first time, but it’s been even more difficult since her stroke a year and a half ago. I’ve mentioned before that I’m in awe of her decision to continue her career training that far from home even as she struggles to learn to walk again and deals with the remaining deficits of fatigue, almost no use of her right hand, no pain and temperature sensation on her otherwise functional left side, and a still-paralyzed vocal cord. And yet I can’t seem to stress enough how proud we are of her. Unable to do the bench work that was part of her research career before, she is now learning an entirely new discipline within her field — computational biology — and learning much of it on her own through on-line classes and lessons and exercises while still directing the research projects she’d started before the stroke. She works around her therapy sessions and doctor appointments and desperately-needed rest breaks, committed to her work and trying to conserve a little of her still-limited energy for occasional outings with her friends. She is getting better every week, spending more and more time out of the wheelchair, growing stronger and more adept with compensating for her challenges. And while I’ve spent some time with her there when I could, she has done it mostly on her own, far away from her family, with much-appreciated encouragement from her wonderful boss, a few close friends, a loving little church, and a team of committed and caring doctors and therapists.

She could have taken an easier path in her recovery. Several of her acquaintances have asked her why she didn’t just move home and draw disability pay, saying they couldn’t imagine struggling that hard just to do basic household tasks involved with living alone. She could have done that. I’m sure she qualified because her deficits were so severe. She was fully aware that she always has a home with us – that “Mama” would cook her meals, wash her clothes, even fix her hair and give mani-pedis, that “Daddy” would gladly drive her wherever she wanted to go, carry her up stairs, help her with exercises and therapy (all things we did in the three months post-stroke). She wouldn’t have had to struggle to make her own meals when she’s so tired all she wants to do is curl into a ball and whimper, or try to figure out how to change the sheets on her bed with one functional hand and unable to walk around the bed unassisted. And yet she chose the latter. She needed to continue in her job training, to know she was preparing for a career that while earning a living salary for herself was also contributing to Hepatitis C research in hopes of eventually curing people suffering in other ways. As hard as it was, she chose independence.

But I’m rambling, as I tend to do when I talk about my (amazing) kids. Back to our trip to the airport last month …

When we take our daughter to the airport, we check in with her, receive passes to go through security screening and accompany her to the gate to stay with her until boarding. Being in a manual wheelchair for traveling and unable to push it very far herself because she has use of only one hand, she needs some assistance getting around the airport. Her flight was delayed by more than an hour, so it was even nicer that we could stay and keep her company. While we were checking in, I noted some boys lined up to check luggage at a nearby counter. Young and fresh-faced, they looked excited to be traveling without parents. And then I saw their clothing — fatigues. These young men (barely more than little boys in my maternal eyes) were in the military. Probably no more than a month out of high school, they were off to train for a different kind of future. I don’t know what branch of the military they were in, whether they were headed for basic training or assignments, though I assumed the former. I can’t describe exactly how young a few of them looked — baby faces barely touched with the first hints of whiskers, still dotted with teen acne. Eyes wide, excited — maybe a little apprehensive? Staying close to each other as they piled duffel bags on the conveyors then headed for their gate. I didn’t see parents with any of them, but I couldn’t help thinking of those moms and dads who’d said goodbye to their children earlier, knowing how difficult their path would be. It put my own upcoming parting into a different perspective. When it comes to parents and their kids, there are no easy goodbyes!

As we celebrate the independence of our country today, I can’t help thinking of all the sacrifices that have been made to secure that independence. I said a prayer that day for the safety of each of the young people leaving that airport — my own daughter and those young soldiers, all courageous in their own ways, all seeking their own independence while making contributions to others.

So much of being a parent is difficult, but the hardest part, to me, is letting go when our job is done. All three of ours are out on their own now, self-sufficient, busy with career training, our middle child and her husband getting ready to welcome their own child in December to start the process anew. And someday they will sit an airport, saying that wrenching, but still proud, farewell.

As my American friends celebrate this holiday, I hope you’ll all be safe from the dangerous heat and wildfires threatening much of our country today. And to my friends in other countries — I wish you a safe and  happy day on this fourth of July.