And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

And what a horrific couple of weeks it’s been for news. How anyone can think of children being taken from their parents as their parents are deported and not be broken by that…it’s been a hard couple weeks. I think we’ve all been hugging our children even more closely than usual.

I couldn’t hug my children. I was off on my own writing retreat on the coast of Oregon. But I watched the news every night and ached.

Tomorrow, I bring my youngest, Olivia, to have her senior portrait taken. Senior. And on Saturday, we are going on the first of likely five college visits. A few weeks ago, I was in the middle of a massage and I was scrolling through my head as to what was next on my overstuffed agenda when that phrase “college visit” really hit me.

Oh my god, I thought. She’s going to be leaving me. And she’s the last. There will be no one left at home.

When I flipped from my back to my stomach for the rest of the massage, the therapist quietly handed me a Kleenex and I gratefully took it.

While I was away on retreat, I didn’t see or speak to Olivia all that much. The day before I left, I dropped her off at a special three-day leadership academy at a local college, so she wasn’t even home when I flew to Oregon. While I was gone, I phoned home every night via Facebook’s video messenger, but other than Olivia making a few appearances on the screen, I mostly talked to the dog and to my husband. Olivia is smack dab in the middle of the stay-in-her-room-with-headphones-plugged-in mode. Apparently, that held true even while I was gone.

I missed her, even though if I was home, she would be in her room behind a closed door. But in the house I was in, the bedroom where she sleeps when she accompanies me was empty. The door was open. Every morning, I drew the blind as if she was there and opened the window to let the sea air in. And I glanced at the still made bed as I walked by.

On Saturday, I left the little house and drove to Portland. Sunday, I climbed on board two planes and flew home. I wondered if Olivia would be at the airport. My husband was at work; my oldest son was coming to get me. I knew my granddaughter would be there. But Olivia? Not sure.

As I walked up the ramp which would take me away from the gates and back into familiar territory, I saw my son stand up and wave at me. The top of a bouncing brown-haired head bobbed at his side. I smiled. Hello, Maya Mae.

And then Olivia stood up. She looked right at me, burst into a smile and began to run.

It wasn’t my five-year old granddaughter that reached me first. It was my seventeen-year old soon-to-be-gone usually-locked-in-her-room daughter.

When she got to me, she threw her arms around my neck and she rested her cheek next to mine. That soft cheek, still the cheek of a newborn, of a four-year old with night terrors, an elementary school child who was bullied, a middle schooler who was finally told of her autism, and a high schooler who knocks my socks off with her intelligence, her compassion, and her determination.

That soft cheek. I didn’t scoop her up as I would have years ago. She’s no longer scoopable. But she bent down to me and there she was.

“Mama,” she said.


Tonight, I told a student in the state of Washington about my obsession with the television show, The Waltons. I told him one of the things that drew me to the show was that the children, as they grew older, continued to call their parents Mama and Daddy. No Mom. No MUH-ther! Mama.

Mama. That soft cheek.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia, at six-almost-seven, dances with the Pacific Ocean at the little house by the sea.

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