My oldest daughter, Sarah, turns seventeen on Tuesday, and she already has an early-morning appointment at the Department of Motor Vehicles to take her driver's test. Thanks to lots of practice, she is already a good driver. I have no doubt that, by ten o'clock Tuesday morning, she will be fully licensed by the State of New Jersey.
My neighbor asked me the other day what I think it will feel like when Sarah gets into the car by herself for the first time and drives away.
Sarah was born by cesarean section, and for the first couple of weeks of her life, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Not only could I barely move, but I was also terrified. Nothing had prepared me for the feeling of having a new baby in my arms. She was tiny and delicate and seemed to do nothing but scream. I was exhausted and didn't know what to do about it. Because of my fragile physical state, and in preparation for my ultimate return to full-time work, my husband had insisted on hiring an au pair from Iceland. The au pair's name was Disa, and she was lovely, sweet and helpful.
Except that I gave her very little to do. I sat in my bathrobe all day, holding the baby, afraid to put her down for even a moment. I was worried that something might happen to her in a moment of inattentiveness. What if I hurt her? I didn't know the first thing about taking care of babies. Sure, I'd read all the books, but that didn't help me. That was all theory. I now had a real, live small person in my arms. There was no way I was going to let anything happen to her. I was never going to let go.
One day, Disa, tired of doing nothing and probably annoyed at my disheveled state, said, "Give me the baby. I'm going to take her for a walk downtown in the stroller. You need to go take a shower, get yourself together, and put on some real clothes. We'll be gone for an hour. That should be enough time, right?"
I knew she was right. I needed to start recovering from the shock of motherhood and become a person again. I reluctantly handed Sarah to her and watched her bundle the little girl into the stroller and head for the door.
"Go," Disa said over her shoulder. "Take a shower. Do your hair. Put some makeup on."
I went upstairs to the bathroom and turned on the shower. Comforted by the sound of the water, I went over to the window, knelt by the sill, and pushed aside the curtain. I watched Disa push Sarah down the front walk. When they reached the sidewalk, they turned left, proceeded a few feet, and then disappeared from view.
Something indescribable gripped me. I wasn't ready to let go. What if they never returned?
That, I imagine, is how I am going to feel on Tuesday morning.