A Path Well Travelled

The simplest questions/ are the most profound./ Where were you born? Where is your home?/ Where are you going?/ What are you doing?/ Think about these/ once in a while, and/ watch your answers/ change.”
Richard Bach: Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Ripples of blue-green water kiss the underside of the pier jutting out from the shore. Lake Mendota is swollen from the week’s long unrelenting rain, but the sun has finally fought through the clouds to run with me this Sunday morning as I make my way along the lake shore path.

I have come here frequently over the past 15 years: To train, visit friends, enjoy college reunions, or just escape for a few days. I almost always find a way to put on running shoes and wind my way to the union terrace.  The path starts there and winds along the shore to the west side of campus. The irony that during my four years of college I rarely found myself out this way is not lost on me. Since then, I am probably closing in on a hundred runs out here.

The edges of the paved path intermittently have stretches of soft gravel that I make sure to advantage. They are a bit easier on my aging knees, but I also enjoy the rhythmic sound of crunching rocks under my shoes. A mantra to focus on and turn inward.

This path over the years has been a refuge. A place to process the challenges that have been front and center in my life. To reminisce, find solace or obtain peace of mind. I run this path often with a heavy heart, the weight of responsibility and struggling with angst of so many unknowns. But usually somewhere along these miles I find clarity and strength to move forward.

Today is different.

There is no anchor weighing me down. My shoes are barely tethered to this earth. feel a levity at the start of my run instead of the finish. I come to this path today not as a lost wayward soul in search of answers, but as an old friend enjoying familiar company.

I have often written here on my blog Balance in vague (and not so vague) ways about the challenges I have faced, particularly with my family. For so long now, there has been a somewhat cyclical nature behind them with an often changing yet familiar rhythm and tempo. But maybe now my family is writing an entirely new composition.

The impressively large Porter Boat house, home to the UW Crew team comes up on my left, blocking my view of Slichter hall which lies just behind. I was unaware of its existence some 30 odd years ago when I went to school here. Now it holds special import to me as it’s my daughter’s dorm. Her first month at school has been good, adjusting as she should. But she’s not my only child to leave the house. We moved my son into his apartment on the east side of campus at the same time.  He has navigated this change in relatively undramatic fashion as well.

I continue down the lakeshore path to the entrance of picnic point, a nearly mile-long peninsula off the south shore of Lake Mendota.  Pavement gives way to an earthy trail. Shadows and light alternate in staccato fashion while I keep pushing forward, the sun flickering through the branches. I make my way to the tip of the peninsula where the trail loops around back on itself. The trees open up and give way to a view of campus from this unique vantage point that is stunning. I am able in one view to see both the west side of campus, where my son now resides, and the lakeshore dorms, home base for my daughter. Bracketed in-between is this amazing world that they now live their days. I feel the echoes of my time here stir inside.

Two years ago, as my family celebrated Thanksgiving, thousands of miles apart, I could have written a thousand different stories of possible predictions of where my family would be. Today is a nice reminder that life can still throw surprises at you that don’t have to hurt.

I run back on the trail to where it meets with the lake shore path, this time heading back towards campus. As I again pass Slichter Hall heading towards the union I can’t help smiling knowing my daughter travels this same path most days. A treasured connection during a time when she is testing her new independence.

I have made my way to the Union and start to walk. At this hour I have my choice of chairs to sit on. I catch up on the notifications on my phone. I scroll through some “snaps” that my son has sent from the night before.  A picture of my bike lock, still attached to my old balcony after 25 years, just a few houses away from where he lives now. Pics from the pier by the Edgewater hotel where I dove off to swim on many summer days. Snapshots of his current life are mixing with my own memories.

I turn to the water and look out toward the horizon. I have gazed out upon this lake over the last few years often looking for answers. But not today.

Today, I just let my heart soar…

Running into Dissonance and Death in the ICU

I am a runner. I run long to train for iron distance triathlons. I run for fun with friends in the cool early morning sun and for a hot venti americano after. I run to cope with the frustrations that comes with life and being a busy physician in today’s world.

I am a doctor. I take care of the critically ill. I treat patients to try and reverse life-threatening illness. I care for them while on life-supporting machines and medicines. Most of the time they heal and recover. Too frequently they don’t.

Today I am running not to train, for fun or to cope. Today I need to hurt. To feel my calves ache and lungs burn. To take my mind of something far deeper and distressing.

Today is day five of my weeklong call in the Intensive care unit. The mid-April sun has found its way to Chicago. Hard to appreciate when tethered to a climate controlled, sterile hospital environment for a week. But as I finally step outside and into the day’s light, fresh air hits my face, warm and refreshing. Almost liberating. Nice but fleeting. It’s no match for this ache inside.

I grab my running shoes. I want and need to take advantage of this brief respite. The breeze outside guides the few clouds across a pale blue sky. They look light and airy. I want to feel that. Weightless.

I leave the house and start on my path. My brain is firing, full of disjointed, moving thoughts loosely connected by invisible threads:  Truisms, Stages of grief and dying, Geometry, and Laws of nature. They move like frenetic billiard balls, fueled by this internal entropy, bouncing around in my head. I try to stay with one, to try and process, only to have it ricocheted out by another Brownian thought. I need to catch up with newtons first law, and I hope by putting myself into motion, these thoughts might slow down enough to allow me to grab hold.

Mile 1.  At the start of my runs I try and establish a baseline. Cadence, heart rate, pace. The basics. Building blocks. Starting points. I think of the basic rules and truths of my work as a doctor for the critically ill.

Rule 1: People will die in the ICU.

Rule 2: Doctors cannot change rule number 1.

Rule 3: Doctors, can however, impact the pace of rule number 1.

Doctors, along with modern medicine and a functioning healthcare system, can prevent death. We treat acute pneumonias and repair ruptured vessels and perforated organs. We shock defibrillating hearts, stent open blocked vessels and swap healthy organs for those that have failed. But death, ultimately, is not something that can be beaten back or battled and won. It was deemed inevitable the day we were born. As a physician, I have accepted this fact, although admittedly, I am still working on this as a human, a spouse, a parent and son. But even though there are things we cannot fix, repair, or shock back to health, we have the ability to affect the shape and pace of that path forward. To create more opportunities to feel the warmth of the sun without a window in the way, or a mouthful of cold ice cream with hot fudge, dripping from a messy waffle cone, instead of a tiny hospital paper cup. To joke and laugh or argue and cry in the presence of those who mean the most. But if those things that give life meaning are no longer obtainable, then the ability to slow the pace of death becomes less noble and more uncomfortable. I currently have a few patients on service where death is imminent. They will never feel warm sun on their faces, or ice cream on their lips again. And I do not know if their ears still hear the familiar voices of their families at the bedside.

Mile 2. Sweat beads around my visor. The heat counters the cold in my core. I feel, for the moment, a little more in control and grab hold of a thought. There are two points, A and B, in my head. That is where my patients exist. They are at point A, alive but not living, moving towards death, point B. In Euclidean geometry, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But distance is not the space where medicine operates. The time and the rate at which we travel are the variables under my influence.

Rate is equal to a change in distance over change in time.

Newton’s second law of motion states that acceleration, a change in rate, is equal to the forces acting upon it multiplied by its mass.

Currently, I am applying forces. I force air into lungs that do not want to open.  I push fluids and medicines to force a heart to beat stronger than it is capable. I am trying to slow acceleration.

From a medical standpoint, there is nothing particularly challenging about those actions. Complexity comes, not from my patients’ physiology but from the denials of their families. As sure as confident as I am that we are headed toward point B, the families are just as certain, if not more so, that there is a different point, with a different letter, that will provide a different outcome. One where my patients will feel the sun on their faces again.

This is where clinical medicine ends and something else begins. I leave my comfortable role as an intensivist, the fixer of electrolytes, the manager of a ventilators, the titrator of pressors, to be something very different.

Mile 3. On some runs, the need to constantly physically push myself fades as I settle into a rhythm. My breathing, swinging arms, and sound of my shoes making contact with crushed gravel all serve as a metronome, freeing more headspace. I visualize the connection between doctors, patients and families. There is a naïve almost quixotic view of how this dynamic should play out in the ICU. We spend more than a decade learning how to help critically ill patients. They come in, burning up with fever, disoriented and altered. They struggle to breathe, their lungs filling with fluid. We diagnose the problem then thoughtfully implement a treatment plan. Their fevers break. Their oxygen levels improve. Their confusion lifts. The angst of their families is relieved. This is the paradigm. We help and heal. We decrease tension and provide comfort to patients and families alike. When we walk into a patients’ rooms it evokes hope and trust from all around.

Unfortunately that has not been my experience this week. My presence, my body and my words bring the reality of death into the room. I discuss persistent fevers, the need for more oxygen and continued confusion. I explain accumulating acids, intolerance to nutrition and the development of blood clots while still being prone to bleeding.  As I explain each failing organ system, an emotional force pushes back, an incoming tide fueled by the strength of decades of marriage, parent-child relationships, and complicated memories.

Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  When I push a family by verbalizing the number of days spent on the ventilator or the lethality of a patient’s underlying disease, it will evoke an opposing response that hardens their denial, mistrust, suspicion and fear.

Mile 4. I can feel it a bit in my legs, the build-up of acids. Lactate is being generated faster than my body can clear. But the discomfort is not enough to distract me from what’s gnawing at my core. Something has been eating away at me this past week. Four patients. All similar. All moving slowly on that line between A and B.  Their families all somewhere on the spectrum of denial. Some outright reject the validity of my words. Others fiercely demand we continue on, without hesitancy, without retreat.

My challenge has shifted from correcting my patient’s failing physiology to understanding the complex dynamics and emotional connections between family members. Is the past full of guilt full of apologies thought about but never uttered? Is the present full of the fear of living a life alone? Are words of love on the tip of the tongue, not yet spoken?  We are in an awkward dance through Kubler Ross’s stages of grief. Objective information is refuted and denied. Families bargain for more tests and interventions, sometimes spewing angry words at staff and providers. The path to acceptance, when filled with tremendous emotional pain, is not a road passively travelled. I am no longer a healer of the sick. I am voicing what families do not want to hear and what their hearts do not want to feel. I am now causing their pain.

And each day a little piece of me is breaking inside.

Mile 5. I push forward. Some days I just run without a goal or destination. Some days I have a specific route in mind. A script of sorts that guides my path. My approach to the ICU this week is similarly structured. I am director of a movie in which I also have a leading role. I manage the flow of information. I orchestrate the movement of the team around me.  On morning bedside rounds, I take extra time to share all that we are “doing” in front of a family audience. I explain the results of images or therapies that have failed. I choose my words carefully. They are active, reinforcing action. I repeat the grim impressions made by other consulting doctors in stone-cold objective fashion. My body language is open. My voice is soft. I maintain eye contact. I take a gentle step forward to decrease that space separating us.

It all feels rehearsed. These are words and phrases I have used time and time again. I fight my desire to scream, to shake and to jolt the family into reality. To show how futile the needlesticks, dialysis lines and trips to radiology are. But I keep it all in. The truth is, at this moment, the families hurt far more than the patients. They don’t have narcotics and sedatives infusing through their veins. But in order to stop prolonging death, I will need to inflict more pain on family members who are already suffering. I need to defy Newton’s third law of motion. I need to get the family to trust me more than they trust themselves.

Mile 6. I pick up my pace and increase my effort. I force my legs to move faster. The lactate starts to burn and my muscles tighten. My breathing is deeper, faster. My legs hurt and back is tight. Each breath is less satisfying. I need this. I need to impose something uncomfortable on myself from the outside to drown out the dissonance inside.

I cause pain in others.

I get it. I know I am not the reason behind their life-threatening infection or metastatic cancer or end-stage dementia. I know that someone needs to talk, to explain and to shepherd families through this process.

But it still hurts.

I navigate my patients and their families through some of the most difficult moments in their lives. From the outside, it appears empathic. My words, though truthful and honest, are not “spontaneous” or “organic”. They feel “scripted” and “managed” cultivated from thousands of similar conversations. But random and improvisational conversations are not helpful for families in an ICU. But what is better for them feels less genuine to me.

I have to focus on pushing forward. My legs want to stop, but I won’t let them. The sound of my forced breaths drowns out the dialogue in my head. It overwhelms the hiss of ventilators and caustic beeps from IV machines and soulless monitors. It helps me erase, for at least a short time, the begging eyes of a spouse clinging to hope.

And as everything fades out, a single voice I recognize as my own comes through.

If I orchestrate a family’s march toward death, is there space for true empathy and compassion?

Can empathy be scripted?

If I cause pain, can I still be good?

The dance I share with my patients and families is complex. The intersection of life and death in the ICU is messy, but we cannot shy away from helping families deal with their pain. A managed, orchestrated and self-monitored approach to such conversations is not is not evidence of a lack of empathy. Failing to help families move beyond denial is.

My run is done. My legs and lungs are spent. So are my brain and heart.

I shower, stretch and try to make the shift from hospital to home. Tonight, we are all home and able to have a rare family dinner together. I think about the complex and intersecting threads that connect us. Messy, yet beautiful. I am thankful for what I have.

Later, lying in bed, trying to recharge for tomorrow, I drift in that place somewhere between wake and sleep.  Three more rules float through my head.

Rule 4. There will always be patients moving from A to B.

Rule 5. There will always be families that will struggle with #1

Rule 6. I will continue to wake up and help families navigate this struggle the best way I can.

What Would You Do For Love?

What would you do for love?

That question is often posed during the dizzying intoxication of a new relationship. Answered in romantic comedies by driving cross country or hopping on some transcontinental flight, chasing down one’s true soulmate. It might mean moving to another state, postponing your career or donating an organ. These are dramatic and bold actions that do something in a positive way, consistent and affirming the depth of connection and magnitude of one’s love.

But what about your children? Like most parents, I would jump in front of bullets for mine. I have declared it out loud for all to hear and whispered in silence to myself; I would be that person they could always trust and count on to protect from harm and shield from pain. Without fail. End of story. Full stop.

But what if you need to cause their suffering?

What if you need to be the source of their pain?

What if you need to disrupt and alter their lives in traumatic and dramatic fashion? And in doing so, instead of protecting them from pain and suffering, you become the origin and cause; breaking all those promises once made.

Would you risk losing your child’s trust and faith in you?

Would you risk losing their love?

I am writing this in the present. But my mind is filled with the memories and emotions of the past…

***

A nightlight interrupts the darkness as I wake up in the big chair in your room having fallen asleep again reading to you before bed. Madison, the blond hair on your seven-year-old head is so short, poking out from underneath the covers. Your breathing is soft and your body calm. In stark contrast, Maya’s tangled curls cover her eyes as she sprawls on top of her bed, without any of the covers she kicked off long ago. I stay in the chair and just watch and listen. These moments made perfect by their silence. Love. Awe. Responsibility. They are overwhelming in a comforting way. I make quiet promises to you both, vowing to protect. To shelter. To be present. Always.

***

I am on a flight back from a brief 36-hour trip to Hawaii. In order to see first-hand where you are about to go, I actually spend more time on the plane than off. I am fighting back tears, knowing what’s looming ahead. The dissonance I feel is overwhelming. In the weight of my breath, the ache in my bones, the hesitancy in my voice. The impending betrayal of promises whispered over and over in your ear, while awake or sound asleep, is tearing me up from the inside out. My logical and clinical brain knows a change needs to be made. It knows the status quo is not sustainable. But logic and pragmatism are no match for my tortured, emotional brain, which is all too aware of the pain lying ahead for my son. I wish I could take it. Swallow it. Eat it whole. Let my core absorb and dampen it. But I understand the paradox. This intense and almost primal need to protect is no longer healthy. It is, in part, why we have arrived here.

***

There are still several weeks to go. Sitting on this secret. This emotional and traumatic time bomb will soon detonate. It has been looming for weeks. I wear an invisible shroud that barely constrains my emotions. Like water just before a boil, I appear calm. But it does not take much for a bubble full of fear to erupt, throwing me into a panic, before settling down. Then another, this time a burst of sadness, with tears flowing from my heart through my eyes before regaining control. My sleep disjointed. Work disrupted. I cannot compartmentalize. I look at you, knowing you don’t know. I’m desperate for another option but I have none.  I look at you, knowing that despite all we have been through, you love me as I love you. That you trust me, despite the fights and frustrations. We always end up back in a safe zone. But it’s a mirage of sorts, a false hope. De-escalation should not be mistaken for conflict resolution nor is it a path to healthy growth and change. So I have committed us to a different path. One of separation. And by doing so, I am betraying what I have promised.

I don’t know what will happen next, when the fear and pain I anticipate becomes your reality? How will you handle the additional injury, when you call for help, and I by choice, will fail to be there?

***

It is morning. My brain is heavy from lack of sleep and the weight of knowing this day has come. Two strangers are standing at our front door. My stomach is twisting, my heart hurting.  I let them in. Our exchange is brief, talking in muted voices. They are calm. My wife and I, despite attempts to project otherwise, are not. They walk into your room. Madison, you are asleep. The brown hair on your nineteen-year-old head is so short, poking out from underneath the covers. Your breathing is soft, your body calm. You still are, and always will be, that sweet boy I fell asleep next to, while reading in the big chair.

When we wake you, you quickly realize there are two strangers in the room. There is a flash of confusion in your eyes, not yet understanding what is happening. But I know. I am breaking my promise.

***

What would I do for love?

I was willing to risk my child’s trust and faith in me. I hoped, at best, that it would only cause a “fracture”. Something painful, but able to heal and repair and, dare I hope, even stronger than before? But I could not escape my fear for the worst; would this trigger an insult so damaging that it would be beyond repair?

What did I do for love?

I took a leap of faith. I made us jump, without knowing where we would land. My head told me it was the right choice. My heart just ached, unable to reconcile this emotionally incongruent action.

I am not sure how to frame it for others to understand. I am not sure that, after more than a year and half, my son understands. A change was needed. Not small. Not incremental. But transformational. My love, although well intentioned, had become constrictive and stunting. In order for growth and adaptation to occur, I needed to be out of the equation. But in order for that to happen, my son was flown around the globe. He had to have everything that he knew taken away. His room, his house, his dog. His sister. His mom and dad. He had to wake up far away and start over. By sending him away, I put his faith, trust and love in me at risk. I risked all that so ultimately, hopefully, he could put that faith and love and trust in himself.

My family has been on quite a journey since July of 2017, both together and individually. All of us have our own unique view of how we experienced and navigated that time. I can only speak cautiously for myself. My son is finally back home, and the internal dissonance, I once woke up to daily, is starting to dissipate.

I remember a fight, a few years back, when I yelled at him, explaining it was because I loved him so much. He screamed back in response, “Maybe you care too much!” At the time, I thought it was an immature and flip retort. Now I think it quite prescient. I don’t believe you can actually love or care for someone too much. But I do believe there are unhealthy ways to express that love. 

My journey has been, in part, to recognize that my son can endure both mental and physical challenges and tolerate suffering. Not surprisingly, by doing so, he has gained the confidence and pride that comes with that ability. He is able to cope with the consequences of bad choices and reap the benefits of good decisions. I learned to recognize that while a fierce unrelenting and unwavering love for child can be comforting, it can be constricting as well.

My son has been home for several weeks now. Our family was able to celebrate his twenty-first birthday together. His hair is a bit longer and he has a thick bushy beard that I have taken quite a liking to. We are still figuring out the feel and dimensions of our current relationship. Most of our interactions are working around the “edges” as we learn the contours of these boundaries. But there have also been some deeper dives into amazing conversations, with a depth and honesty that is new to us. We are still a little tentative and hesitant on some topics. I have not pointedly asked him how that decision, made eighteen months ago, has impacted his ability to trust and love our family. It still feels too direct and blunt. Asking him to articulate in words, what is probably a complex set of emotions, in the hopes of relieving some of my lingering guilt, would be selfish.

Right now, it feels more like we are healing a fracture than coping with unrepairable damage. After our leap of faith, my family’s feet are finally on the ground. And with each tentative step we take forward, a bit more hope replaces the ache in my heart.

The Big Chair

I miss when you both were little. The three of us with room to spare in the big chair.  That precious time before you would sleep, wearing soft PJ’s dotted in animal shapes. I preferred the ones without “footsies”, so I could feel those small, cold feet brush against my legs as you both wiggled and wriggled. We all stretched out in that oversized chair; your bodies lay against mine in the evening hours. Your skin smelled so sweet, like innocence. You were so small, I guess in the same way I must have been so tall. Giggles and laughs. I wanted to sleep. You wanted to play. You both insisted on reading again and again. Silly words, silly times. I needed to rest my eyes. Eventually words became mumbled, vision became blurred. Finally, we all succumbed to sleep.

I watched you play and practice. On baseball and softball fields. In the swimming pool or dance studio. Racing through to the end of my work day with an invisible clock in the back of my head, always present. Always ticking. Counting down the time left to get a glimpse. A chance to see you swing or pitch. Flying starts off the block and into the pool, or an aerial that tooky our feet off the ground and upside down.

We ate pancake breakfasts at home. Hands and mouths sticky from syrup with bits of melted chocolate chip on your lips. Or Saturday morning trips into town to Georgie V’s or Egg Harbor, with the promise of an endless cup of black coffee for me and a soon-to-be spilled hot chocolate for you.  We laughed and giggled. Drew pictures on paper placemats with blunt tipped crayons. Played with words. Spelling them, putting them in haikus or rearranging their letters. There were no iPhones to distract.

When I write these words now, I stop and pause. I lose track of time. I leave the present and go back to the past. The time between then and now keeps getting longer, marching on in unrelenting fashion. Just like the two of you. You grow. In age. In height. In independence. In defining yourselves.

That oversized chair is gone. One of your rooms empty for over a year. The other soon to be. Those too infrequent times when you both are home, sleep usually lasts through breakfast and well beyond. My time outside the hospital is no longer spent racing to watch you participate in life, but waiting for you both to share with me what it has become. I check my IPhone, hoping to catch a static glimpse of dynamic moments in your life. Through Instagram, snapchat or a text.

My perception of self is that I am still youthful and young.In body and soul. Until I wake up in the morning with pain in my back and knee. Or I see the gray in my hair and the lines on the face that looks back at me in the mirror. But most of all, I feel an ache in my core, over the passage of time when I think back to those days. The big chair. Chocolate chip pancakes.Running out a grounder on a dry, dusty field.

The ache turns to loss. And when loss turns to angst, I want to cling to you both. Grab you. Weave my world even more with yours. But that is selfish, thinking I can slow the pace of change by not letting you freely move forward in this world. I know that it is now time for both of you to begin creating your own. That chair has become too small for us all.

An Open Letter To The New Graduate – Endings and Beginnings

Maya,

As I sit in the balcony watching, your distinct smile is visible from afar. You and 500 other students are about to receive your diplomas and, in the process, cross over from high school students to graduates.

Our house has been hectic this past week with all four of us coming and going: weekend call at the hospital (me), finishing up AP exams, dance practice, work hours, graduation rehearsals and a 5k added just for kicks (you). Our paths crossed briefly, at the extremes of early morning or late night. Waiting in the auditorium for your name to be called allows me to focus on what is finally happening. My vision blurs as tears form; a pop-off valve for my swirling emotions. I try to tease out exactly what I’m feeling, but the intensity is too much at the moment. They call your row and your name is finally read. I watch you walk confidently across the stage and receive your diploma.

And in the blink of an eye, high school is over.

The next hour is chaotic at best. I struggle, but finally find you in the outdoor courtyard amongst a sea of green caps and gowns. Looking for friends, you dart and weave through the crowd, with that frenetic energy you always bring to the table. I try to keep up, my iPhone at the ready, capturing static pictures of dynamic moments with your friends. As our family poses for pictures, the smile on my face and my arm pulling you close don’t project the complexity of my feelings. Pride, joy and excitement, mixed with a healthy dose of melancholy.

You are no longer my little baby girl.

I have been attempting to write a piece about you and your graduation for a while now.  Originally, it was filled with advice for my University of Wisconsin bound daughter. It had some good stuff in there. “Be yourself”, “Take chances” or “Be curious”.  But that wasn’t really about YOU. It was what I hoped for you. And in that sense, it was more about ME. That piece remains on my electronic desktop, to be continued at another time.

As I take more photos of you and your friends, I recall photos from the past. There is one in particular where you are dancing, having launched yourself off the ground, legs stretched perfectly parallel to the stage and your arms extended. Those dance pictures never cease to amaze. Moments in time captured at your zenith, before gravity kicks in. The raw force it takes to propel yourself into the air is captured in images of powerful muscles in your legs. But there is also a grace in your ability to channel it all into a movements of beauty. Force and grace. Maya, you are most definitely a force. And you often display a grace beyond your years.

I remember one summer day when we were at the local pool. You and a friend chose to pass on swimming, in favor of practicing your aerials on the grassy picnic area. You ran across the grass for hours, hurtling your body into the air, almost, but not quite rotating your body around quickly enough to stick the landing. Again and again. Persistent. Tenacious. Unwavering.  And then…finally…you did it.

You throw yourself fiercely into so much of what you do. When a classmate’s illness kept him from attending most of school one year, you demanded his desk remain in the room. When your principal announced a fund raising event, you wrote an essay for him, complete links to websites documenting reasons the chosen charity was unacceptable and suggestions for better choices. You have been a friend and ally for those struggling to find themselves or where they belong. You rehearse and practice your dancing for thousands of hours, despite turned ankles, irritated nerves and nails torn by dancing on pointe. And through it all you have made life-long friends, gained confidence in your voice through the power of inclusivity and found your passion for movement and music.

That picture of you dancing, frozen in mid-air, feels appropriate for this moment. With force and confidence, you have leapt into the air, away from high school as a new graduate. With amazing friends, an emerging voice and a love of dance, you are now defying gravity.

But I know as summer gives way to fall, you will come back down to earth, as a new freshman on an exciting college campus. And I know there will be tears. My tears. I am not ready for you to land.

You may be excited for your new roommate and living in the college dorm. For dance classes halfway up Bascom Hill. For runs on the lakeshore path and walks up State Street. For the 5th quarter and jumping around on football Saturdays. For studying late on a random Wednesday night. But that means that my little girl will not be living under my roof. I won’t see the rolling disasterous mess you call a car pull into the driveway. I won’t see your gluten free food packages or half eaten tubs of frosting left open on the counter. Or wake up in the morning to see you asleep sprawled on the couch. 

I think back to that day of a hundred attempted aerials. You were not to be deterred. You fell. Again and again. But you picked yourself up each time and went back to do that sprint into your jump, knowing the next one would be the one you’d land. Until finally you landed it. I watched you from about fifty feet away. Not really in your line of sight, but I could see you. Watching, in case you fell too hard or  twisted an ankle. Or to see you stick the landing. But you didn’t need me. You handled the adversity that day quite well on your own. And now, years later, you are both more skilled as a dancer and more capable and confident as a young woman. Ready to take on all the exciting challenges that lie ahead.

I am sure in the coming months I will struggle and try to pull you closer. Just as I am sure you will be pushing away. That will be part of the challenge this summer; your pushing, my pulling.

I know you are ready to spread your wings. I am just hoping for a little more time before you fly away.