I watched María start edging into sullenness. Her face is an open book, those dark eyes of hers getting stormy, the silence that used to make my anxiety start climbing, the set of her mouth. We’ve learned to wait, not rise to the bait. So finally, she asked if the three of us could have a family meeting. It’s been a hectic few days—I had a bad case of the stomach flu, we had the closing ceremony for our reading camp at church, a couple of unanticipated, highly stressful meetings got scheduled at the last minute, and my dear, dear friend Len came to visit from San Diego. Yesterday morning, Sherod found out that his mother had been hospitalized with difficulty breathing and they’d found a large mass in her lungs. Even though he’s on sabbatical, he’d also been asked to go to the hospital to meet a parishioner who needed to remove a family member from life support yesterday afternoon. María moved in and out of all this commotion in the past few days with a lot of grace and composure so I wasn’t totally surprised that things were getting shaky.
We sat quietly for a few minutes and then she said, “I don’t like BARC anymore and I want to make a deal to come back home.” Sherod caught his breath and I said, “Maria, I love you and we can’t do that. The way we are doing things now is the way we can still be a family and be safe. When you lived in this house, none of us were safe.” There was a fair amount of arguing back. She has a remarkable ability to marshal logic and persuasion at times like this. When that didn’t work, she tried to start escalating. I was able to say to her that if she couldn’t be nice we’d need to call BARC so they could send a van and staff to pick her up but that I imagined if that happened, she’d have to go to isolation time out. Sherod stood up and walked away and I started reading a newspaper on the kitchen table.
I finally looked up and there were these enormous tears sliding down her face. She reached out to touch my hand and whispered, “I love you, Mami.” The best I could do was just clutch her hand and not start sobbing myself. After a bit we agreed that a swim in the pool might be a good thing and then it was dinnertime. We’d been sitting having our meal out on the deck in our swimsuits and weren’t all through eating before she said she was going to change into her clothes because she was ready to go. She asked that only her daddy drive her, gave me a hug and walked out the door.
I am still not totally reconciled to the reality that my daughter needs to wear a lojack bracelet because she is at such risk for elopement but I’m glad right now that she has that. I suspect inside her it is going to get a lot harder before it gets better, this new life of hers with far more structure, more immediate consequences, affection but also detachment that we were never capable of. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her make some effort to run away next. Sherod is on the road to Alabama, I have a busy day of “to do’s” ahead of me. I do keep having to stop to remind myself that I have to be as brave as she is. Because today, I’d really like to scoop up my baby and bring her home.