There is a scene in the TV show, “Felicity,” where Felicity is having dinner with her mom and dad, who have flown from California to New York City, in an attempt to convince their daughter that she should go college—as they’d planned—in the golden state. They want Felicity to come home.
Felicity is going to stay where she is, and in this scene, after her parents have promised her a condo, admission into the pre-med program (her dad knows a guy), and handed her keys to her own car, she tries to explain why she wants to go to school across the country.
She brings up a weekly dinner date she and her mom had on a regular basis. Every Wednesday, they’d get a burger together. The camera moves to Felicity’s mom, who smiles fondly at the memory. Seeing her mom smile, Felicity says carefully that the other day, she had a burger in the college cafeteria. And it was a Wednesday. And Felicity was alone.
“Suddenly,” Felicity tells her mom, “it was the best burger.”
She doesn’t intend to hurt her mom’s feelings. Felicity is trying to express that terrible and wonderful vacancy of realizing she is on her own; that she gets to make decisions about what she eats, where to go, and what to do next.
I’ve always watched this scene—this entire series—from Felicity’s perspective. I’ve rooted for her, hoped she’d make it in that magnificent city, deciding on which vocation to pursue and which boy to go after. (Medicine or art? Noel or Ben?) I understand she’d hurt her mother’s feelings, but this was Felicity’s coming-of-age story. Every girl needs one, and unfortunately, a mother’s feelings are casualities as their daughters pursue to find their best burger moments.
“You have to let her go, Mrs. Felicity!” I’d say to the TV. “This is what’s supposed to happen!”
Sitting on the couch in my PJs watching an actress play a mother, is a safe distance to tell her that she has to let her daughter go. It is not so easy to say these same words when there is no script, and I am no longer living this story from a daughter’s perspective, but instead, from a mother’s.
On Mondays, Harper has ballet lessons after school. While she dances, Hadley and I head to a coffee shop to read. Sometimes I fiddle with a piece of writing I’m working on, or sometimes Hadley works on a comic strip. It is my favorite part of the week. One Monday though, Hadley gets into the car after school and says, “You know mom, I’m old enough to stay home alone. You could get me my own house key. I could take the bus.”
As Harper chomps on a granola bar while changing into her ballet attire, I listen to Hadley’s plan. She has it all figured out. If I let her do this, certainly it would be the best bus ride, and that house key would be the best house key, and I am nowhere near Hadley’s side of things—I am Felicity’s mother. Hurt, and afraid.
What if she gets on the wrong bus? What if something happens to her while she walks home from the bus stop? What if she can’t get into the house? What if she gets hurt inside the house?
Most of all, it is this thought that tears me apart: Hadley and I won’t have coffee shop Mondays anymore.
When I was going to be a freshman in high school, I tried out for the Drill Team. I wanted to be on the squad more than I wanted a Cabbage Patch Doll in first grade; more than I wanted my first kiss; more than I wanted Wil Wheaton to write me back explaining how much my taking the time to express how amazing he was in the movie “Stand By Me” meant to him, and could he take me to a Cubs game next time he’s in Chicago. I watched the Drill Team at hometown football and basketball games, and I wanted to stand the way those girls stood. I wanted to strut the way they did. I wanted to try out those sharp, precise dance moves. Watching them dance felt like discovering a long, lost language I’d never used, but somehow understood. It was like finding a piece of myself that was raging to come out.
My mom didn’t want me to try out. She was thinking, given my shy and keep-to-myself personality, that I’d be best suited for track. I didn’t know this until years later, after my pleated polyester orange and blue skirt was handed into the OPRF high school Athletic Department to be used by another 14-year-old who would twirl her way through the teenage years.
My mom didn’t tell me how nervous she was of me getting cut from the team—of me getting hurt—because she knew how much I wanted to be on it, and so she said nothing, and I’m wondering now if the hardest lesson of motherhood is realizing it is our own fear we must protect our children from.
“I’m glad I never said anything,” my mom told me years later. “You were a different person when you danced. I had no idea.”
My mom was right. Drill Team gave me a chance to practice being someone I wanted to be: confident, assertive, expressive. It also taught me the importance of looking into what brings me joy, and pursuing what I think is beautiful. It taught me that, no matter the outcome, it is important to at least give the “what if” a try.
Still, I’m not sure who needs more strength—the daughters who throw themselves into something despite the risk, or that they’ll get hurt, or fail, or the mothers who stand by and watch them do it.
It was snowing one Monday when Hadley and I were heading to a coffee shop after dropping Harper off. We stopped at a red light and a boy next to us with a crammed backpack saw Hadley studying him. He smiled, crouched down to scoop up snow, packed it into a snowball, then stood and offered it to her with a smile.
Hadley took the snowball, and her smile was so big I swear I felt it. She held it in the palm of her hand, and as we walked, she’d turn around every few steps to see if he was still there. Then, she’d look at the snowball, her smile growing for this silent inside joke she shared with a friendly stranger. I walked alongside her, saying nothing. This moment was Hadley’s, and saying something to her about it would’ve felt like chasing motherhood.
Like Felicity’s burger, this was Hadley’s best snowball. There will be no better snowball than this one, until, on a night year’s from now, when she is walking around her own college campus with a backpack crammed with books, and each step she takes is filled with that same wonderful-terrible vacancy that she is on her own. Maybe a boy will give her a snowball, and remind her of when she was eleven and she learned life is about work and play; it is exciting and monotonous, it is joyful and sorrowful, and Hadley gets to figure all this out. All of it, each moment is for her to turn over and see what it is she thinks about it.
Or maybe she’ll make the snowball herself. I can see her doing that. I can see her slamming her backpack to the ground, kneeling, and scooping up some snow. I bet she’s not wearing her gloves. She’ll hold that ball and giggle at what she made, and maybe she’ll remember that college boy from a few years ago. And maybe she’ll think of me, too, but it’s okay if she doesn’t. I have to let her go. This is what’s supposed to happen.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.
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