At first she was held within the tight circle of my uterus, influenced by me alone. The food I ate, the air I breathed, the dreams I dreamed, the hopes I had for her, these alone composed her experiences.
When she climbed out of my womb two month early, the circle expanded to include Dave and I, but also neotatologists, residents, lactation consultants and a constant vigil of nurses.
Once home, those early months were anchored by the care of Dave and I, as we spent hours taking turns wearing her in a sling next to our hearts.
As she grew, so did that intimate sphere of influence. Grandparents, aunts and uncles and special friends became treasured faces that prompted a smile. Before long, books became sources of new stories, and every trip to the grocery store was an opportunity to make new friends.
When I went back to work a few years ago I was accutely aware of passing off responsibility for her care during those hours, and knowing that she would be exposed to new things as a result. (Fortunately, my dear cousin was her babysitter!)
And now, this fall, we have entered a new phase as a family as my girl has ventured off to kindergarten. I have been accutely aware of how she has entered into the care, not just of her teacher (already much beloved) but of the whole local community. She is making new friends, quoting to me from authorities I do not even know. How can I argue with the words of a five-year-old I have never met?
I have a lot of trust in the foundation we have built as a family these past five years. I know that Dave and I will continue to be her primary influence for a while yet, at least. It feels good to know that the local school is a good one, and that in this small town there is a sense of mutual care and responsibility.
I also feel a sense of grief. I wonder sometimes, did we do enough to impart our values to her? Have we given her the tools she needs to navigate a world that is often at odds with those values? Mostly I just grieve that she will never again be so wholy "ours" as she was as a baby.
This must be "the long goodbye" that the poets speak of.