For the past month, I literally have cried myself to sleep every night. Perhaps, I tell myself, this will keep me from crying when I say goodbye to my daughter, my one and only child, this Sunday. I will be all cried out.
I haven’t cried like this since my husband Gregory was dying of melanoma in 2007. I pride myself on keeping the tears in check. I save them for my bi-monthly visits to my psychiatrist in New York City, who has known me and my family for nearly 20 years. We went to her in 1994 for help dealing with infertility and three ectopic pregnancies, and she helped us let go and adopt a child from China. I never make plans for after our late-day sessions, knowing I will have swollen red eyes. Instead, I return to my tiny pied-a-terre in the city and order in from Shun Lee.
When we lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Shun Lee was my daughter’s favorite restaurant. The owners were from the same part of China as Lili, and they always welcomed her with hugs. When we visit the city from our home in Weston, Conn., she always says, “Yay, we can have Shun Lee for dinner!”
Lili and I have been sole survivors these past five years, shell-shocked but still standing. The year after Gregory died, she gave me one of those acrylic, etched pieces for Mother’s Day, with her “10 Reasons Why I Love You.” There are the usual reasons: “You’re Kind and Caring” and “You’re Always There to Hug Me.” But numbers six and seven mean the most to me: “You Give Me Confidence” and “You Let Me Stand On My Own.”
Though it hasn’t been easy, I have resisted the urge to cling to my stoic, beautiful daughter. When I hug her, she cringes, especially if we are in public, which has become increasingly rare. But these final days together as mother and daughter, she’s relented a bit, and even gets into bed with me and our two dogs some mornings.
She is an organized child; she’s been packed for college for two months, all of her things neatly placed into large plastic boxes that she bought on her own at Bed Bath and Beyond. She has several tubes of toothpaste and laundry detergent in one of the boxes. She cleaned out her room and took loads of clothes to Good Will. She bought her extra-long sheets, college-dorm sized, on eBay. I have had little involvement in these endeavors, not because I don’t want to, but because I know my daughter. She has always been independent, wanting to do things her way.
I look at the photo of Lili, Gregory, and me in front of Brownstone School on West 80th Street in New York City. She was just two and beginning daycare at a wonderful place in our neighborhood. Vivian, the teacher for the Green Room, warned the parents that the children would have separation anxieties, and we were allowed to wait at the school for an hour, out of sight, just in case. Lili went into Green Room, proudly stacked her box of diapers in the bathroom, and took her seat on the floor in a circle of children. She pointed at Gregory and me and instructed, “You go.”
When I drop her at college in a few days, I will remember this command and won’t linger over goodbyes. No tears — they are behind me. I will do what I must do. I will go.