She'll Be Gone

emily baby 1
It’s late, and I haven’t had time to post anything today, so I thought I’d share something I wrote a long–VERY LONG–time ago (about 15 years ago). [edit: this happened in 1993] The incident I recount below touched me so much at the time that I wanted to write it down so I wouldn’t forget it.  When you read it you will see why it is even more moving to me now than it was then.
A high school friend was finally getting married (at the ripe old age of 25), and had come to pick me up to take me to the bridal salon to be measured and to see the bridesmaid’s dresses.  My daughter, Emily, just awakened from a nap and actively experiencing a case of the terrible twos, screamed the whole way there.  We met up with another friend at the salon, and busied ourselves in oohing and aahing over the dresses and moaning and groaning over our measurements.
Emily, of course, was busy too–running in and out of dressing rooms, rifling through the racks of dresses, and squealing with delight as I chased her and dragged her back, over and over.  Watching as she pulled out dress after dress for her perusal, I’ll admit that I had a brief vision of her in twenty years or so, with her dark hair veiled in white, but I thought more about how exasperated I was, and how much fun this outing would have been if her daddy (at a study group with law school friends) could have been home to watch her.
There were other customers in the salon, including a mother, father, and little sister watching a prospective bride try on gowns in search of that perfect one for her special day.  Emily, naturally, was already making friends with them, having struck up a conversation by saying,“This is a stupid place to be.”  The father, still in his delivery man’s uniform after a day of hard work, and the freckle-faced little sister, listened tolerantly as the mother complimented Emily’s unusual verbosity and talked about her own daughters.
Back in our corner with Emily firmly–for the moment–in tow, my friends and I watched the scene.  Surely, we said, from the vantage point of our advanced age and experience (we were all 25 and two of us had been married several years), that girl was too young to be married. We could all feel the poignancy of the scene–the parents watching their red-headed teenager about to take the step they had taken years before, seeing her transfigured as she tried on gown after gown of bridal white.
Emily had her own comments to make.  “She’s an angel, Mommy.  She’s beautiful!”  She trotted back over again to say, “I love you, Angel.”
The family turned their attention to the invitation books and I continued to chase Emily around the store while my friends discussed the exorbitant prices with the consultant. Finally, we were finished and I retrieved Emily from the men’s dressing rooms for the twentieth time, holding tightly to her 30 lb., wriggling body as she cried to get down.
The mother of the teen-aged bride stopped me.  She put her hand on my arm as she asked, “Is she your only child?”
“So far,” I answered.
“Well,” she said, looking at me so intently that I could see the tears swimming in her eyes, “You enjoy her, you love her, you hold on to her, because,” and she glanced across the room to her own daughter,“before you know it, she’ll be gone.”
I patted this woman, twenty years my senior and a stranger to me, on the arm, and the tears for that rose in my own eyes were both for her and for me, were tears for the pain of parting that all mothers of little girls must feel when their precious babies grow up and become women themselves.
I held my struggling bundle closer as we left the store and when one of my friends asked what the woman had said I replied through my tears, “It was a mother thing.”
Emily is 19 now and left us in August to go to college over 500 miles away.  I remember when she was a newborn baby I used to hear a country song on the radio about a mother helping her daughter get ready to leave for college and I would start to cry thinking about my baby girl growing up and leaving home.  Happily, Emily still seems to like coming home and will be here very soon for the whole summer! [edit: Emily graduated and came back home to live.]

Have you ever shared a touching moment with a stranger?  Do you dread the day your kids leave home?  Or are you secretly looking forward to it?
emily now