Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Home and Away

We're into the second half of my daughter's two-week backpacking trip in the High Sierra with Outward Bound. That's a big deal for both her and her parents. I realize that a great many children would have spent at least a week or two away from home by this point in their lives. She is 17, after all. I certainly had. And her mother had left home for good. But, for a variety of reasons, her time away from us has been extremely limited.

Separation has never come easy for her. Back when she was a baby, when we were still living in the Bay Area, we had three people who could and did watch her successfully while we went to a movie or a concert. Once we moved to Tucson, though, those opportunities became a lot harder to find. Although we lived next door to Kim's parents, they were far from ideal babysitters. And we never found anyone else who could reliably step into that role.

Eventually, the children's gym near our house started having Parents Night Out events on Fridays, which she enjoyed, allowing us just enough time to see a film and maybe get a quick bite to eat. But the program only last a couple of years. Since then, with the exception of the few days she spent on a class trip in fifth grade, the highly unfortunate three days she was confined against her will and ours at our local crisis center for troubled teens back when she 15, and a recent overnight martial arts camp, she has only been separated from us during waking activities like school.

That's why her resolve to go away for two weeks and, what is more, under demanding circumstances she had never experienced before seemed like such an important step for her and, by extension, us. As we should have expected, her usual anxieties -- the ones she has been beset with since infancy -- were at their maximum levels beforehand. She had second thoughts about going right up until the day before. Thankfully, she managed to overcome this reluctance, in the end, though the long drive to Fresno was extraordinarily stressful for her, me, and her mom back home.

Since I dropped her off at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport the Sunday before last, she has been out of mobile phone range. We miss her. The cats miss her. Perhaps even the tortoise misses her. And she may well be missing us, though I expect that the sheer intensity of her experience, among other factors, will distract her better than anything can distract us. If all goes the way I hope it will, she will return with a much greater sense of autonomy than she had when she departed -- even if there were aspects of the trip that she disliked -- and we will soon be forced to confront that time that almost all parents struggle with, when the need to let go wars with the impulse to hold on.

I can't be sure how that transition will go, though I suspect that it will take longer than it should and feel shorter than it actually is. And I'm also pretty sure that the disconcerting emptiness I keep feeling throughout the day, this vague sense that something is missing that won't ever be wholly recovered, will be with me for the duration and beyond. It scares me. But it's also a source of hope, because it has become increasingly clear over the past few years -- as parents who have been through all this will no doubt remember -- that for things to continue as they have been would only make all of us feel claustrophobic to the point of paralysis.

As much as I miss my daughter right now, I am also realizing how much I missed being me. There are many reasons, as I have tediously rehearsed in previous entries, why I more or less stopped updating this blog. One of the biggest, though, is proving to have been the sheer amount of time I have devoted to being a parent. That wasn't clear to me before, because I was too close to my situation to get critical distance from it. The more time I spend not consumed by my daughter's crises, both real and manufactured -- I'm not sure even she can tell the difference, frequently -- the more I recognize that I allowed them, as has long been my tendency with the problems of others, to become my own to such a degree that I sacrificed my own autonomy.

I'm not saying I would have or even could have done things differently. My goal was to do whatever I was able to do in order to help her make it through a very difficult period in her life. She is doing better than she was six months ago and much, much better than she was a year or two ago. For all of our mistakes, her mom and I have managed, for our part, to facilitate this improvement. I'm not willing to discount the value of our efforts. At the same time, though, I am now aware of ways, going forward, in which preserving more time and space for my self could prove instrumental in her sustaining the sense of autonomy she is cultivating on this journey of personal discovery. That's why I took the time to write this today, to remind myself that it's important not to forget who I have been, who I am and who, most importantly, I could be in the not-so-distant future.
Tags: autobiography, daughter, everyday

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