A daughter sets out on her own, then and now

HER dad carried the suitcases and duffel bags from her bedroom to the car. We went through all of the checklists again. Do you have your clock? A calculator? Your dress clothes? Sure you don't want to take a fan? Dorm rooms get hot.

My daughter followed her dad on his trips from the bedroom to the driveway, holding her pillow and her favorite pink blanket close to her chest.

When the final suitcase was put into the trunk, she said a choked up goodbye to the dog and took a final look around the family room.

"Finally," she said to no one in particular, "I'm out of here. Took me long enough."

She first tried to leave home shortly before her second birthday. Dragging her suitcase through our tiny apartment, she announced brightly, "Bye! I'm leaving now!"

I looked up from the book I had been reading.

She had put on a dress - unusual, as she was going through her naked phase - and slipped her sandals on the wrong feet. Her wispy blond hair was matted on her head, in part from the sweltering summer day and in part from sweat caused by dragging a suitcase twice her weight.

I bit my lip to keep from smiling. "Are you running away?" I asked.

She thought for a moment. "No, I'm not running. I'm walking."

"Oh, and where are you walking?"

"The city," she answered. When I asked which one, she shrugged. "Just the city."

"And do you have money?"

She nodded. "I put my bank in there," pointing to the suitcase. "That's why it's so heavy."

"That's good," I replied. "You should have some money. Any reason why you are leaving?"

She walked over to me, clasped her tiny hands over mine, and focused her large gray eyes on my face.

"It's time, Mommy," she said. "Sometimes, you just know it is time to move on. I've done all I can here. It's time for me to have my own life."

Once, my grandmother had said that my daughter was born grown up, and it certainly did seem that way. She moved through every stage in her life months before the baby books said she would. Now, at 22 months, she was ready for her own apartment.

She didn't hug me, just waved her hand in my direction as she said goodbye again. She held her favorite pink blanket close to her chest and dragged her suitcase behind her as she headed down the staircase and to the front door.

She reached her chubby arm toward the doorknob, and then, on tiptoe, grunted, trying to grab it with her fingertips.

Dejected, she returned to the living room to announce that she wouldn't be leaving after all.

Oh, and would I carry her suitcase back upstairs? Had she asked for help, I probably would have opened the door for her, to see how far she would have gone.

But, in her mind, to ask for help meant that she wasn't independent enough. It meant that it wasn't really time for her to move out, to move on.

NOW I stood next to her, my 17-year-old, still tiny but all grown up. The car was packed with her belongings, and her dad was in the driver's seat, getting impatient.

She turned to me, her huge gray eyes filling with tears. "What if no one likes me? What if I can't make friends? What if I fail?"

"You'll do fine," I assured her, positive that she would.

"Are you sure I'm ready? Maybe it isn't really time for me to leave," she said as she clutched the blanket tighter to her chest.

The car horn beeped.

"Honey, go open the door. You need to get going."

She said one more goodbye to the dog and reached for the door. The knob turned easily in her hand, and she hurried to the car, shouting to her dad to let her drive.

As she settled behind the wheel, I called after her one last time, "Are you sure you have everything?"

She stuck her arm out the window and waved her hand at me as she pulled out of the driveway.

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