On Monday night I sat on the floor of my daughter’s old room, contemplating the yawning mouth of her enormous brown suitcase. I had just emptied said suitcase of what few items still remained in it after my daughter’s week long visit, in order to repack it for her return trip. How unfair, I said to myself, that Mothers not only have to let their daughters leave home, but they also have to help them pack their clothes. Separating my grandson’s clothes out from my daughter’s clothes, I sniffed to myself that this was just like having to go out in the yard and pick your own switch. If you’re from the South you’ll understand that reference.
For a week I had been luxuriating in a visit from my daughter Cameron and my angel grandson Micah. ( For those of you who don’t know, Cameron and Micah live in Pasadena with their darling Daddy, who was busy this week at a conference and unable to join them.) It was the best kind of visit, the kind that is not prompted by a certain event or obligation other than to glory in occupying the same space. The lack of planned activities meant that my husband and I were granted the wondrous gift of having our daughter and grandson all to ourselves. Aaah.
Experiencing the kindness of folks in Memphis.
Having my daughter, who at 18 “had to get out of the South” eager to get all up in the grit and grind of Memphis.That’s right; now WE’RE the cool ones! ( By the way, her glowing account of her visit can be found here.)
The only sad note was that Cameron couldn’t share her fun with her husband. We hated that he had to miss, for example, Micah swinging at a beer glass and shattering it, or Micah whapping his head on my travertine floor. It just didn’t feel right not to have him here with the rest of us.
Now, having separated Micah’s things into piles, I began to stack and roll them up, a technique I have used throughout the years in order to fit more things into the ugly brown suitcase. I hate you suitcase, I said silently, and would have stomped my foot on the floor for good measure except the baby was asleep. I felt I had reason to detest this selfish bag, with its seductive expanding compartments, always luring my daughter further away from home.
I would put a photo of the suitcase here, but why would I photograph such a thing?
Like most parents, I didn’t exactly realize that when I was gracious enough to allow my daughter to leave home for college that she wasn’t ever coming back. It was the ugly brown suitcase that taught me that lesson. First we had to cram it full for college, 750 miles away. Soon my daughter’s course of study would lead her to Russia for a semester. Dutifully I rolled and packed fluffy coats and durable boots into the behemoth bag. I secreted little notes in her coat pockets. It was a comfort to me to think of her so far away, finding a note from home.
After Russia the trips away seemed constant. She retuned once to St. Petersburg, then graduated, then drove across the country for graduate school. Inevitably, the night before she left, instead of licking my wounds, I was creatively engineering cowboy boots, furry coats, mens’ oversized shirts, or whatever her current fashion interest was, inside Mr. Suitcase. I was not gentle with the suitcase. Take these belts and clunky bead necklaces, sir, and overweight bags be damned!
My daughter’s comings and goings eventually led to graduation, marriage, motherhood and the carving out of a novel career. Now I’d had her for a week, taking her to see things that didn’t used to exist last time she lived here. That was fun enough, but it was more than just fun.
Because here’s the thing about Cameron. I don’t say this just because she is my daughter. It just so happens that she is just a pure joy to be around. I promise you would want her for a friend, and not just because she’s brilliant and interesting. Those are fine qualities in a friend, but what stands out in Cameron is her love for others. She is never too busy to do something thoughtful for someone else, something that shows she cares. She is consistently warm and encouraging. Getting her to myself for a week felt like going to a luxurious spa, one that allows thirteen month old babies.
My daughter and I jammed in the rolled items, along with one million plastic baby bottles, and added a new stuffed bear, Micah’s souvenir from the zoo. Cameron had said over and over how much fun she had had being in Memphis. She hated to leave, but she and Micah really missed Daddy. We had missed him as well on all our jaunts. And oh, how he missed his little family this week!
I zipped up Mr. Ugly brown suitcase, packed tight with treasures. Reflecting on how the family would reunite the next morning, I realized this ubiquitous mud brown bag had yet another lesson to teach me. My heart swelled as I pictured Micah’s Daddy swooping him up in one arm while pulling my daughter close. They are a family now, making a firm foundation for Micah’s future, and that is as it should be. For this trip my daughter packed bottles and baby clothes. One day it will be jeans, hoodies, and enormous shoes. That is also how it should be. It is right and I am glad. We are always preparing for the next step of our journey whether we realize it or not.
Thanks, Mr. Suitcase. I guess you’re not so bad after all.