I am working at my desk and not far away my daughter is in the kitchen eating oatmeal for breakfast. Undoubtedly she is cruising social media on her phone when she calls out to me, “I miss Heathrow.”
This has been a refrain I have heard a lot this summer. Not the Heathrow part but many sentences prefaced with “I miss.” I miss beach week. Or I miss hiking in New Hampshire. I miss the school’s tuna salad. Or I miss my class on Chekov.
She’s repeated this phrase so often I have come to the conclusion, and I have told her, you are in a State of Missing. It’s become our summer joke together.
My daughter has just graduated from high school. Since she was five years old she’s attended the same small school, and so in a sense, she has also graduated from her life as she can remember it. She is college bound and will leave in a few short weeks. She’s ready, we’re ready; it is all good. And yet, it isn’t quite. There’s all this missing.
I didn’t push her to get a job this summer, or plan, really, anything. During senior year and in the run up to graduation we were in what I can honestly call (as derided as it is by some) an overwhelming State of Busyness. It wasn’t made up. It wasn’t for show. It was everyday a checklist of things that couldn’t NOT be done. It was great. It was exciting. But it was BUSY! And so at the end of that, lingering in the sun, just ahead, appealing and warm and calm, was a potential State of Relaxation: Summer!
And we made it! Summer. With trips, lazy days and downtime. With baggage, literal, and yes figurative. With beginnings, and endings. And with missing. I miss lacrosse practice. I miss assemblies.
Missing things is ok. The feeling of melancholy, or nostalgia, is one that has been explored by artists and writers throughout the ages. It is sweet, and bitter; bittersweet. It is a human ache that we all feel.
I feel it too, this summer. Sometimes I miss my daughter when she’s in the very room with me. I miss the baby I held in my arms and I miss the tiny golden girl who climbed everything. I miss her as a princess in pink and as a tomboy in her brother’s shorts. I miss her as a middle schooler and as a babysitter. I miss her American girl dolls and her roller blades, her stuffed animals and her collection of little boxes.
I try to remind us both about the good part of all this “missing” – that its opposite is “having.” All of the things we reminisce about, that we long for and want to recapture, are positive experiences. Nothing lasts forever but in memory. So if we are in a State of Missing we were also in a State of Having at one time.
My daughter is also in a State of Transition. She’s going from having to getting. Something new is on the horizon. She’s in the BETWEEN and because she doesn’t know what’s ahead, she is looking back. So am I. But I want her to know this too – everything we’ve had, everything we miss, was once AHEAD. It was unknown before it was known. And so, what could be better? A past we love, and a future full of potential!
Sometimes I desperately miss the days that are still ahead for my daughter. College. Making a life, BECOMING. Not always easy times, but often, splendid ones.
So I hope this for her as she prepares to leave:
I hope her college days will be as wonderful, as worthy of missing, as these childhood, high school days feel to her this summer.
Just as she pines for school now, I hope she will find a whole new level of scholarship at university, and that when she misses that, she will ask questions, and seek answers in life’s classroom.
As she already longs for the friends she has, all going their separate ways, I hope she will make many more. I hope she will miss them too. And find them all, new and old, again, and again when the trails they hike intersect.
I hope she will travel, and the way she misses the adventures she’s had, in Paris and London, New Hampshire and New Jersey, she will know many, many more places to miss.
And although I know she will, I hope she WON’T actually miss home too much. But if she does, I hope she will know that’s a state to which she can always return.
As for me, I am grateful for all the having. And the missing – although as I write about it now, and talk to my daughter about it, I know in a few short weeks, I will actually come to understand in a whole new way. The state of missing her.
Christine Kouwenhoven lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband and three children (mostly grown, one flown). She works as the Director of Communications & Grants at Baltimore School for the Arts. Christine has an MA from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. She shares poems and reflections regularly on her blog poempost.com.