She’s going, and that’s all there is to it.
My nine-year-old daughter got invited to spend a week with her cousins at their lake house in New Hampshire. It’s been in the planning stages for weeks, and she’s got everything worked out. She knows what outfits to pack, which shampoos to bring, and which stuffed animals will make the trip with her. She’ll be under the watchful eye of my brother and sister-in-law the entire time. She’s going to have a blast, the time of her life.
But I don’t want her to go.
“Look, Dad, you have to be reasonable,” my daughter says, her expression so serious, she looks 19 instead of nine. “I’ve been to sleepovers before. And I spent the whole week with my cousins when we were at the shore. I’ll be fine!”
She’s done two sleepovers. The first was a Girl Scouts campout at a park across the street from our house. I spent all day — and most of the night — staring out the window, wondering if she was okay. The second was a slumber party at a friend’s house. She was fine both nights.
But I wasn’t.
Our house feels strange when a family member is missing at lights out. I feel the same when my wife spends the night away. (A rare occurrence — the only times I recall her being gone overnight were when her Mom was dying, and when she was in the hospital following her stroke.) Our home doesn’t feel right — doesn’t feel like our home — if the entire family isn’t present and accounted for.
I know I’m fighting a battle that’s already lost. My daughter has her mother’s support.
“It’ll be good for her to get out of the house for a week. And she’ll be with family,” my wife says. “You know the old saying: ‘The best thing you can do for your kids is give them roots, and give them wings.’”
“Wings suck,” I say. “She’s only nine. Too young to fly.”
“Didn’t you have sleepovers at her age? Didn’t you spend vacation with your cousins?”
Yes, I had sleepovers, and vacations away from my parents at her age. I remember having fun. But what I remember most is the feeling of freedom and independence. I was a big boy. I didn’t need my parents so much anymore. I could take care of myself. I had my own life, and they had theirs.
It was the start of a detachment from my parents, my first stumbling steps toward adolescence.
I don’t want my daughter to detach from my wife and I. I don’t want her to taste freedom. I want to stop it, squelch it. I want to stunt her growth. I want to seal my wife and kids up in a bell jar, freeze time so none of us gets any older.
Like I said, I’m fighting a losing battle. But this isn’t about being an overprotective father, or a visit to my brother’s lake house.
I fear my daughter is growing up too fast (Well, too fast for me — too slow for her.) Before I know it, she won’t be lecturing me like a 19-year-old, she’ll be a 19-year-old, wings fully spread, and she’ll be able to fly wherever she wants.
I’ve seen my daughter’s wings. They are beautiful, powerful, colorful, and strong. I know they will carry her far in life.
But I’m also afraid that someday they’ll carry her away from me.
Originally published in Wayne TODAY, August 2013