For dessert, we ate whipped cream and angel food cake and summer berries. Asher dipped his head down and licked the plate, as though a contestant in a no-hands-allowed pie eating contest. The little girls each carried their emptied plates to me in the kitchen, smears of white cream in the soft strands of hair, clinging to their cheeks. The bigger kids each rushed in, an assembly line, dropping plates into the sink before disappearing back to their pre-dinner games.
I loaded the dishwasher, like any other day. I changed into running clothes and went to log at least another mile or two on the treadmill before Vinnie would come home, like any other evening.
Except, it wasn’t.
When we were all putting on shoes and gathering keys and purses to head out to run family errands, we sent Alex and Asher down to retrieve Lila from our friend’s house. But…she and Laney were not there.
All before dinner, as I stood at the stove stirring pots of penne and sauce, the chatter at my side was that of Lila and her best friend and what new wild adventure they were planning. This particular evening, it was a dreamy, beatnik-esque excursion to Texas.
Oh, Texas is great, I had told them, it’s hot, though, and dry. But, it has the River Walk, and it has the Alamo.
Yeah, and we’re REALLY going, they insisted.
I shifted my focus to Lila, leaning against the counter with an impish grin on her small face. I struggled between the parent in me who wants to encourage adventure and fearlessness and imaginative play, and the parent in me who needs to instill boundaries and be protective of this wild and wonderful child given to me.
Oh, you can go to Texas, I dipped my chin down and waited until my eyes met hers, but you can’t leave the yard. It has to be pretend.
Now, two hours later, they were nowhere to be found in the house, in our yard, in the side streets or down back past the baseball field. All four parents were up and searching.
Alex strode beside me, as I pounded down the sidewalk, muttering, fuming. I was not afraid, I was not nearly as worried as I thought I would be. I was, quite simply, fuming. I was livid.
How could she have completely ignored my instruction? How could she? What on earth possessed her to do something so incredibly selfish, irresponsible and foolish?
We found them, bewildered looking, approaching the curb at the corner of a side street and a main road. Two beautiful, slight and lost looking little girls, fidgeting with the straps of their backpacks and looking completely stunned at the sound of my shouting.
I’m sure the five minute walk back to our house must have felt like an eternity to them, as the onslaught of every motherly scolding cliche poured from my lips. How could you…? Do you have ANY idea…? We’ve been worried sick! I can’t even believe you would… Just wait until your father sees you!
I sent Lila inside to wait in her bedroom, while I stood in the driveway, breathing.
We have this hanging in our home.
It’s one of two Kerouac quotes I have framed and hanging here., because somewhere in the midst of this routine and daily life, there is still a wilderness that I want to see. There is still wildness in me, that I don’t want to apologize for.
I stared at the print last night, remembering my own long late night walks, alone, and through the black streets and old city hills of Sighisoara. How completely bold and idiotic I was, taking up with strangers who bumped into me on my walks. Talking with men I’d just met, on park benches, looking out over moonlight and stars and the glinting lights of a sleeping city below.
I look back and see myself as so very, incredibly, fortunate. I tiptoed the edges of my wild heart, but I came home.
I came home, to where my mother had been praying for my protection and blessing, daily and nightly.
Lila, is me.
And, now, I am my mother, who will forever be hoping and praying that wherever her wild heart takes her, she will be safe and protected and blessed, even when it’s in the dark of night and I fear the worst.
Last weekend, my mother called to talk to me, her own wild daughter, about my tattoo. She waited over a week before calling to give herself time to process and come to a point where she accepted that though she will never like it, she knows these feelings are about her, not me. We laughed and talked, like friends, best friends, like how I hope Lila and I will be one day.
And as a thirty-five year old woman, my mother is still teaching me lessons on life, on how to be a mother to an adventurous and confident little girl. How to hold back, when you want to scream. How to be loving and patient and kind, even in the face of irresponsible, disrespectful or just simply hard to understand.
This morning, Lila and I climbed into the minivan together to drive to her last day of co-op for the school year. As I pulled out onto our street, I saw myself again, speed walking down the sidewalk. I felt it again, the concrete under my feet, the wind on my cheeks as I turned and looked down every driveway, across every side street. The disbelief and anger, again, bubbled to the surface of my heart.
Lila sat in the backseat, watching out the window. I breathed deeply and bit my tongue.
Because, I know, if my daughter truly is anything like me, this is only the beginning.
How our relationship will be – when she’s thirty-five and still making my heart jump – starts here, in this moment, where I choose silence over scorn.
And, I know that I’m going to want to be there, for every unpredictable minute of her.