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(David Gillett for The Globe and Mail)
(David Gillett for The Globe and Mail)

Facts & Arguments Essay

My daughter is leaving and I'm a wreck Add to ...

In a few days I'll be a pathetic lump, a rudderless ship, an embarrassment.

My daughter is leaving home and man, I'm going to miss her.

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Even though we'd planned for this day, even though we're proud of her, I never really thought it would happen: this breathtaking metamorphosis from baby to girl to woman. I'd somehow fooled myself into thinking that this delicate creature, who hung on my every word and looked to me for everything, would stay forever thus, sort of like the ultimate house pet in flowered tights.

It was a selfish view, of course, and naive. I've been proved wrong and now I've been brought to the brink and forced to look over the edge. What I see mystifies me. I don't see disaster, not for her at least, but rather a wide road rolling out under her feet, a world beckoning. And I don't see her looking back and hesitating.

So I asked Katy, my wife, to help me get some perspective. Or, more accurately, to throw me a lifeline. "I don't see her all broken up about this," I said. "It's like she wants to leave."

Ever so sensitive, Katy replied, "What did you expect? We spend 17 years preparing her to go and so now she does it. Hardly rocket science."

That wasn't the solace I was after, so I moped. But she had a point. We'd entered into the bittersweet season with Molly-Claire: bitter at her leaving, but tasting the sweetness of knowing she's ready. This was what we'd wanted, after all - that she be able to confidently soar in her own sky.



Louis L'Amour once said, "How long is a girl a child? She is a child, and then one morning you wake up she's a woman, and a dozen different people of whom you recognize none." I get it, Louis; well said. But it doesn't make me feel any better.

Molly-Claire has lived nowhere but on this old farm, exploring the world of fields and forests with her two brothers. She's known no other bedroom but the one at the top of the narrow stairs, its walls lined with the books she loves, its window facing the sunrise. How can she leave all this? I mean, really.

I'm sinking and I know it. It gets worse when the photo album comes out, each picture a square on a quilt of memory: Molly-Claire dancing on Hadrian's Wall at 3, asleep on a train, blowing out birthday candles, baking cupcakes, teaching her little brother to swim in the waves of Cavendish Beach.

Some patches are of our making: peeking from her twig fortress dubbed Eeyore's House; Candy the pony eating apples from her hand. Others were sewn on by friends: the community raising the child.

But then I look at another, more recent addition to the quilt. It is digital and stored on my laptop: Molly-Claire last November in New York, arm in arm with her dad in Times Square. She's no child in this one. She's a self-assured force to be reckoned with, a citizen of the world. Not so much my child as my equal. It almost doesn't belong, almost looks like it should be the start of a new quilt.

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That thought is excruciating. I look squarely at this glaring new fact - her fledgling life at university many hours from here will truly be hers, not ours any more.

"And that's the way it should be," Katy reminds me.

But I don't want to hear it. Pouting, I ask, "Won't you miss her?"

"Well, she'll be home at Thanksgiving."

"But that's not until October! That's forever! I could be dead by then!"

Time marches on. Bags accumulate and preparations for departure ramp up. The evenings set in more quickly now and there's a smell of autumn in the air, despite the late-summer heat. Over in town they're polishing the school buses, mapping routes and planning the stops they'll make. But there won't be one at the foot of our lane this September, not for Molly-Claire. The bus will rumble by, dust pluming out behind it, as if she never existed at all.

I'll try to be busy that morning. I'll tell myself she's off on a great adventure, exactly where she should be. I'll try to convince myself that I'm okay with it and that she's having the time of her life, and she probably will be doing exactly that: loving it, revelling in it.

Even so, there will come a moment when it isn't so great for her and the magnetic pull of home will be overwhelming. I won't be there, but that quilt of memories will be. Miles apart, we'll both take a corner and wrap it around our shoulders.

Heaven help me if she ever gets married. Wait until you see me then: I'll be done for.

She's going, and did I mention that I'll miss her?

David Gillett lives near Orillia, Ont.

 

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