Sometimes when great plans fall apart, something just as beautiful emerges.
Our senior daughter asked to fly out-of-state for a spring break trip to visit her best friend in Indianapolis where we used to live. “With college coming, I need to say my good-byes,” she said. She planned on attending college overseas and the significance of leaving friendships behind was real. We appreciated her intentional care for the good people in her life and this particular friendship was rare. After giving it some thought, we gave our permission for her to take this trip.
Yet, I smarted with this abrupt departure from family tradition. As a tight-knit family, we’d never vacationed separately and I tingled with a bittersweet mixture of emotions. It was her last spring break before college and she wanted to do something without us. Much as I understood her desire to see her dear friend, it was enlightening that she was willing to forego a family vacation and the host of memories and inside-jokes that would invariably be added to family lore. This was a signal among others that she was readying herself to leave. At her age, I knew her desire was a healthy one, this eagerness to chart her own course.
Shifting my perspective, I reflected that her separate spring break trip would be good for me. It would help me in the business of readying myself to have her gone. Soon enough, we would be a family of three, not four. Better there were baby-sized experiences of our daughter doing things completely independent of us during the countdown months. These, I believed, would help ease the jolt of that final goodbye, suddenly coming all too fast.
The best friends texted and laid out the details for the visit while I rummaged through storage bins to pull out ski pants, jackets, goggles, socks, hats, scarves, goggles and so on. We had arranged to go skiing with our teen son and it made our daughter momentarily twitch, because she adores skiing like the rest of us. But she accepted the trade-off. Once I got over my gloomy introspection of not having her come along, I delighted in visions of long powdery ski runs in the Rocky Mountains and afterwards, the relaxing après-ski. My husband and I needed the break from our stiff routine ever as much as our son did from his grueling first year of high school.
With an eye on our daughter’s pre-dawn Friday departure, I was alarmed to hear Wednesday night that she had a strange pain in her lower right abdomen. “It’s probably nothing,” she said. With a bit of banana in her stomach, she left for school the next morning. I could tell she was pushing herself and wasn’t surprised to get her text to please pick her up at noon. I anxiously watched her head straight to bed and frantically googled “lower right abdomen.” I checked on her repeatedly and with every query, she felt less sure about how her stomach felt, whereas she was certain of absolute exhaustion.
Late that night my husband and I talked about the next 24-hours. If she woke up sick and was unable to travel, she wouldn’t be going to visit her friend and I wouldn’t be going skiing.
Mother-daughter would have a stay-cation. Our spring break trip would be turned upside-down.
She emerged ready to go early Friday but couldn’t drink her tea, let alone eat anything. Visibly wobbly, she admitted that her stomach pains persisted. With some teary discussion, we cancelled her flight. She went back to bed to wait for urgent care to open but soon returned declaring that now she felt fine. Watching her closely, she exhibited the enthusiasm we’d witnessed building up inside of her for this day. Her honest eyes shone clear. Questioning her, we gradually felt satisfied that her symptoms weren’t serious enough to warrant cancelling her trip. This girl, after all, never gets sick, I thought. In good faith, we booked her on the next flight.
But moments after my husband hit “purchase” for the mid-day flight, our daughter’s eyes turned glassy and she sank to the kitchen floor, leaning against the wall crying. She then stood up, ghost-like, and left in a panic. Her footsteps faded down the hall and my husband and I looked at each other in astonishment. We found her abrupt change of behavior just as we had re-booked her flight baffling. Flying was nothing new to her and neither was flying alone. Did she have hidden anxieties brewing about this trip? Was this trip-ending sickness protecting her from something, or saving her for something we couldn’t now appreciate, and perhaps never would? These were just some of the questions we asked each other.
“She’s not supposed to take this trip,” my husband said. I agreed. Something outside of our control was going on. We calmly cancelled the flight we had just re-booked and then proceeded to cancel my flight to Colorado. I wasn’t going skiing after all. I was staying home to nurse my senior daughter.
She joined us, composed. Inexplicably, her symptoms had vanished and she felt well. Additionally, she peacefully accepted the blunt reversal of plans so long in the making. Later the doctor at urgent care could find nothing wrong with her.
The entire sequence of events left me confused. I wondered if our spring break had been needlessly ruined. This thought dogged me as I unpacked my suitcase, preparing to stay home with my-daughter-who-wasn’t-sick. As the days of spring break passed, I realized that what I considered a misfortune for both of us was actually a blessing because it opened up a glorious week alone as mother-daughter.
Staying home when home is Austin was not a hardship, especially because SXSW (South by Southwest) was in town. Though we didn’t have tickets for any events, as downtown residents, the festivities were at our doorstep. My daughter and I strolled through our district taking in the crowds, stopping for Indian food at a food truck and watching the opening parade down Austin’s infamous 6th Street.
Running together on the trail by the water, we heard music wafting from the main venue site Zilker Park, just across the river. I asked for meal requests and we feasted on her favorite shrimp entre, and later, scallops. Lazy mornings, shopping and catching up on some girl movies, most memorably The Notebook and Jane Eyre, rounded out our comfortable days together. Neither of us pined over what we were missing out on, but instead enjoyed what was in front of us. Our time together was so relaxing that it was easy to forget I was chilling with my daughter. Instead, it felt like we were hanging out as old friends.
Finding a rational explanation for our experience that morning was impossible and unimportant, in fact. College will soon take her away. No one can take away the memories we made from our week together.