I’m standing in the bedroom that used to be my daughter’s, looking at walls that used to be hot pink but are now a mix of pink and primer, waiting to become a neutral beige.
My daughter turns 21 this week, something that happened in the clichéd blink of an eye. Clichés become clichés for a reason, after all, and the reason most often is that they are true.
I hardly need tell this to other parents and grandparents who have watched their own children grow up like a movie stuck in fast forward. One moment you’re at the opening credits and the next you’re at the midway point, where images go blurry and characters shoot from youth to adulthood in the time it takes to chew a popcorn kernel.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I marveled at my daughter’s feet, so small and perfect as they poked out of a receiving blanket. I remember trips to the park, pushes on swings, kissing away boo-boos, applying Band-Aids, shopping trips and vacations at the ocean and vacations in our backyard, filling plastic swimming pools with water that would soon become cluttered with grass clippings from neighborhood feet, alternating between lawn and house, depending on the temperature of the afternoon sun and the flavor of popsicle offered inside.
Parenting is really just one long exercise in letting go. You let go of the bicycle. You let go of the car keys. You let go of her hand when she climbs on a bus that takes her to a place where other people and other ideas begin to influence her more than you do, a truth both exciting and frightening. At some point, you let go of her heart and hope he won’t break it, but he always does, yet you let it go again because that’s life and it’s what she wants you to do and what you’re supposed to do.
You let go when you leave her on that first day of college with people she and you barely know, and although you tell yourself that the quiet house is a relief, you know it’s not. The quiet is something you endure, not something you get used to.
Some of the letting go is easier. You let go of the drama of lost homework and the surprise of discovering the gas gauge on empty and the conviction that never, ever, will you allow a room in your house to be painted, floor to ceiling, in hot pink.
You let go of all these things because you tell yourself that they’re only temporary, that these sojourns to school and mall and college and work will be over someday and that she will come back home and be your little girl again, but even as you tell yourself these things you know that they are lies.
A good friend once told me that grown children never come home the same way they did when they were young. Yes, they may return in late spring with futons and laundry in tow, but they’re really just marking time in hot-pink rooms until they can visit friends or head back to campus. Or until they can find an apartment where they can stay all summer long.
We didn’t plan to have the room painted this week. It was supposed to have happened weeks ago, but the painter’s timetable and ours didn’t quite match, so here he is, covering the pink with primer and creating, all unbeknownst to him, a metaphor.
The pink is what was; the white, what is; and the beige, what will be. Right now, the room is a mixture of past and present, and that’s how I view my daughter — through the pink of the past, but with the white becoming more apparent each day. The beige is what she — and our relationship — will become, one of equals, something I’m learning means that, while I may still want to play the father card and yell and stamp my foot, I must talk to her the way I do other adults.
That, too, is about letting go.
Although she may still come home from time to time and sleep in the beige room, it won’t be the same; and even when I would like it to be, I don’t wish for it. It’s not the natural order.
But wherever she is and wherever she goes and whatever she does, the pink of her formative years is still with her, just as it will still be underneath these walls, unrecognizable and unsuspected by those who don’t know. I take pride in that, just as I take pride in the fine young woman she has grown to be, sometimes because of my help, sometimes in spite of it.
The future may be beige, but it sure isn’t neutral. Letting go never is.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published April 12, 2012, in The Alliance Review.