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Our daughter’s gone, unleashed on the world

I can hear her up there in her room moving those enormous, orange storage bins around. They make a scraping noise that nearly drowns out her sing-a-long with the Dixie Chicks. “Wide Open Spaces.” It’s about a girl who’s leaving. Like our girl is.

There are six of those storage bins, each of which she is filling to the brim with clothes, towels, make-up kits, bathroom accessories, school supplies, assorted decorations, prized possessions from her friends, her family, and her childhood. Duckie is in there, a bedtime companion since she was 4 years old. She would clutch Duckie under one arm each night when I came in to sing the bedtime song I wrote for her to chase the demons out of her closet and out of her head.

“Bad dreams go away, 

You can’t come here today,

Frody will bite your butt,

Like two little coconuts.

He’ll chase you down the street,

He’ll bite you on your feet,

He’ll bite you on your toes,

And your nose and your elbows.”

In the beginning, the singing of this song — an incantation, really — was accompanied by the spraying of “bad dream mist” into all four corners of her room, around the windows, in the closet, and under the bed, with our miniature dachshund, Frody, not even a year old, chasing me around the room, doing his best to bark and to sound menacing, but mostly emitting adorable little squeaks that cracked us all up. Only after these nightly theatrics could she relax and get some sleep.

I don’t remember when exactly that I stopped singing this song. That’s how your children grow up, it turns out. Things change suddenly without your realizing exactly when, why, or how. One day, you’ve changed your last diaper. One day, they stop asking you to read “The Cat in the Hat.” One day, they don’t really care about going to the county fair anymore. One day, it’s really all right if you don’t sing the bedtime song, but thanks anyway. One day, they start locking their bedroom doors.

Some of these changes pass by with little fanfare, others pass by without registering at all, at least until much later, when you finally realize that the children in your home have been replaced — completely without your permission — by young adults, who are dealing with problems you are ill-equipped to help them solve. There is no bad dream song that will chase away the inexplicable horrors of advanced algebra, the godawful havoc of puberty, or the incomprehensible mystery of someone who loves you, but not like THAT, more like a brother or sister, you know? Because you’re great. Wait, are you crying? There is no spray for that.

Then, one day you are teaching them to drive, and you can’t believe it. Is it possible that this child is old enough to operate a motor vehicle? The very idea of them merging onto I-40. Then, they are shopping for dresses for the prom. Then, they are visiting colleges and filling out FAFSA forms. Finally, they choose a path and plans are hatched for their great escape.

In some ways, parenthood is just as cruel as it is rewarding. The first few years after your child is born convince you that it will be a long, long, such a long time before your kids are grown. You aren’t sleeping much. You’d give anything for a night out. You are on high alert at all times, even when you are on vacation. Your children must be watched and attended to at all times.  

Time crawls by on its hands and knees, exhausted, begging for mercy. You fantasize about that glorious day when you won’t have to panic about every little cough, or what grandma might feed them, or whether the teenage babysitter is as responsible as people say. You dream of getting one tiny sliver of your life back — just a little taste, even a whiff of it. It’s going to take forever though. Forever.

And then it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, the rest of it is like trying to watch a movie on fast forward. Now, time flies by laughing, mocking you. You couldn’t pick it out of a line-up. It all happened so fast, officer. You savor everything you can and document everything you can, but it’s already over by the time you’ve clicked the picture.

 She’s done packing, and it’s time to pull out some old family chestnuts. Everybody is feeling a little sentimental. We watch an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” during dinner. We give her a Dr. Seuss book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, with messages inside from all three of us: mom, dad, and little brother.

We all crawl into our king-sized bed and share some of our favorite family memories. Then we file into the living room and put on the B-52s “Rock Lobster,” an old favorite from years of family dance nights, and pogo around the room, with Frody, now graying around the jowls and sporting a jagged scar down his back from a bout with cancer, still giving chase as best he can, just as he always has.

The next day, we got up, packed two cars, and took her to her new home on the campus of UNC-Charlotte. We are going to miss our girl so much. She was so hard to let go, but way too much to keep all to ourselves.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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