Three whole months of not seeing or speaking to our 11 year old daughter. There was no adequate measure of the anticipation dominating our flight to North Carolina. One more night until graduation day. What ever would this be like?
I could not sleep. Different scenarios spun through my mind like cotton candy, getting fluffier by the minute. Had to talk myself down. If I let my mind go? I would imagine her skipping out from under a rainbow, smiles from ear to ear, joyous giggles spewing forth with unicorns dancing around the campground. Ohhh, my overly indulgent optimism, a blessing and a curse. AMIE, be a realist here. Come back to earth.
To touch her. To see her. I could not wait.
Her 84th day in the woods. We had to go and stay there for an overnight and experience what she had overcome. I was giddy with terror.
Another workshop began the day for the parents of 3 children graduating, to review what we learned and practice. Most of which, I could barely hear through my earmuffs of excitement. They gave us our packs, reminded us of the rules. Live in the present. No future information. No technology. No mirrors. And the door opened…
Tentatively we walked into the woods holding a giant flag, doing call and repeats. I think I heard her, was that her voice? Chills surged up my spine, tingled my scalp. I felt like running. I think I did.
VIOLET. The air sucked into my ribcage. She was so thin. She was covered in hundreds of bug bites, scars from old ones and a layer of dirt. She had sticks and twigs stuck in her hair, smelled like a teenage football player. She was exhausted. She was nervous.
She was mine.
I ran and hugged her with all my might. Squeezed and squeezed, trying to get every inch of my skin to touch some of hers.
My husband hugged her tight next. I shivered and my eyes welled. I was scared. Excited. Wanted to be perfect. Wanted her to be perfect too.
I took a step back and looked at her. I could sense something was off. What was it? She was distant. Protected. My emotions swirled as I tried to understand. It seemed like eye contact was too much. Too overwhelming maybe? I felt nauseous.
Stop Amie. She is fine, we are all fine. She has gone through SO much. Give her a break. But why isn’t she squeezing me as tight as I want her to? Because she is scared. Why doesn’t she seem effusive, bubbling over with the excitement of being reunited? Because she has gone through SO MUCH, this is intense. Give her a break. Not everything has to be perfect all the time. This is what it is. Let it be.
I took a breath. I tried not to prompt her with my usual, “You OK honey?” I just tried to let it be, I really did.
We gathered and had lunch. She cooked with the counselor, served us all and cleaned up. All coated with pleases, thank-yous, tons of respectful eye contact. She smiled real smiles. She was proud. Then, we sat around the fire pit.
“So, what are we doing next?”
“Sorry Amie, too much Future Information, gotta just live in the present.”
The woods. Crunching leaves underfoot, a bird, a snapping twig. I watched an ant crawl by next to my leg. I waited. I tried to breathe, tried to be patient. I saw Vi check me out, she noticed my discomfort in just BEING. Ugh. Stay in the present damnit!
Counselor came over with some tools and we were going to attempt fire. My husband and I tried for like 15 minutes, I was very frustrated. IT WAS SO HARD! Finally, I achieved the few sparks that were the goal and was ready to move on to the next thing.
“OK, I did it!!! Finally!!! Where to next?”
“Amie, live in the present.”
HOLY COW PEOPLE. I am an adult. Can I please know what is happening next? An outline? Cliffs notes? Just a tiny clue? ARRRRRGGGGGH.
An epoch amount of time passed, or at least that’s what it felt like. We FINALLY moved on to gathering wood for our fire and Violet lead us around the woods explaining which trees were good tinder, how to identify poplar. She was enjoying teaching us so we asked more questions. The thaw had begun.
We played games devised to reconnect families after such tough separation. It still felt strained to me, like she was so far away. I tried not to micromanage each feeling, tried not to force myself on her. Again Amie, LET IT BE.
By the second game, I looked over and saw Violet lean into my husband, and she stayed there. She just leaned. He felt it. He gently put an arm around her. Such a tender little branch. I got teary. She was going to be ok, we all were.
As nighttime crept up on us, we began to get ready in our cabins. The heaviness of the newness lifted. We laughed a little more. We mocked my husband for needing me to switch beds because of the giant spider on top of his. We took pictures and I hugged her again and again. I finally got a real hug back.
Laughter. She laughed for REAL. It wasn’t edgy, it wasn’t hyper. It was genuine joy. It was like a symphony of sweetness. I let it echo in my mind, memorized it.
The longest, most silent night ever ensued. Crack of dawn, breakfast. Violet made it again, used perfect manners, cleaned up. Nice.
“So what do we do today?”
“We live in the present Amie. Enjoy the moment.”
We live in the city. My mind has crap-on-a-loop at all times. Constant overhaul of what’s next and what’s after that. And do I have everything I need for the next 5 things with a family of 5? Non-stop chaos. I tried to give MYSELF a break.
This was nature. Silent, vast, slow moving, real nature. Blue waves of mountains, hundreds of years standing in the trees around us. I was remiss to let my mind wander even for a second from the gift surrounding me. Two people I loved so much. The present.
I looked over at Violet. She was peaceful. For first time in her 11 years of life, I saw her face without the strain of her brain in it. She really was at peace. We sat, the 3 of us, legs barely touching. We didn’t need to fill the space with words. I breathed deep the smells, the closeness. I felt content from head to toe. Gratitude washed over me.
How many ways can you say thank you? I wish there were more. Oh limiting English language. Thank you husband, thank you nature, thank you program, thank you therapist, thank you Violet, thank you life.
We did a little ceremony by a stream and threw in rocks representing old behaviors. I should have thrown in my ‘what’s next’ obsession. Ready to be alone, we ran like the wind outta that place. Went to a restaurant and ate some gluttonous food, bathed for an hour, slept in big cozy beds.
The days we spent with Violet before going to school were magical. I felt such a sense of ease. She was grateful for every little detail, as were we. I was able to enjoy her personality without the tension. She was so light, sweet, empathetic, expressive, proud, mature, funny, HERSELF. My daughter was wrapped in her renewed self-esteem; she knew how strong she was. I basked in her loveliness, felt like crying from half joy and half holy-cow-look-what-we-have-been-through. It was yet another precious gift.
I started feeling nervous about the next step. Was this sustainable? What would happen with the real world peeking back in? What if her siblings were here? How would she handle real opposition now? What would it be like to drop her off and say goodbye AGAIN? WHEN WOULD I SEE HER NEXT?
SHHHHH. Amie, don’t go there, girl. Learn from your experience like Violet did. Stop thinking. Breathe. Let this be all there is. Don’t deviate. Enjoy the moment.
Truly. Ain’t no gift like The Present.