“Let’s drop the dog off and walk some more,” my 18 year plus one day old daughter says as we approach the house. Our senior pup Nellie can still complete the three-quarter mile lap around the block, but she retires to her favorite chair when I go for longer strolls.
I keep my face neutral, but inside my heart is doing flip flops of joy. She wants to walk more because we are having great conversations, and she doesn’t want them to end. I don’t either, especially since in five days she will be at college and I will walk alone.
Our walks have not always been idyllic mother-daughter bonding. Sometimes our chats dissolved into arguments, and we trudged home in angry silence. Sometimes I just couldn’t say anything right, but not saying anything wasn’t right either. Sometimes I wanted to put in earbuds and listen to my audiobook. But anytime she asked to join me, I said yes, knowing that the day would come when she wouldn’t ask.
In the heat of the summer, we often walked Nellie in the evenings. As July blurred into August, our strolls became consistently pleasant. My daughter had lots to chat about, and I finally learned to keep my mouth shut and listen. I chose my words carefully, cautious about giving unsolicited advice or unwanted commentary. When I did speak, she listened. I felt like I was talking to an adult.
My friends with older kids told me that by the time she left for college, I would be ready for her to go. There were certainly moments, even days, when I needed some distance between us. I don’t miss the arguments or the teen attitude, but I do miss the walks and talks with this thoughtful, complex and intuitive young adult.
This young adult left for college, and I’m back to walking alone, once again immersed in my audiobook. The mother-daughter conversations continue, primarily in the form of snapchats and texts. It’s not the same, but I grin like a fool each time my phone tells me I have a new message. I rarely initiate the conversation because I want to give her space to settle into college life, but I eagerly send back a snapchat of Nellie as we circle the neighborhood. She takes screenshots of these photos, collecting digital pieces of home.
Our Snapchat streak is up to fifty-three days. That means we have sent each other selfies or short videos every day she’s been away, but it’s no replacement for a good talk. For those, we still walk together. She calls after her last class as she walks back to her dorm, and I either walk Nellie or walk around the house picking up the mess that now just one kid makes. I can tell when she’s arrived at her dorm, because her chatter is punctuated by “heys” as she greets new friends.
Six weeks after we hugged goodbye in front of her dorm, my daughter comes home for the weekend. I look forward to uninterrupted chat time during the car ride, since the three days are filled with Homecoming activities and visits with friends. After only twenty minutes of talking while I drive, she becomes quiet, and for the rest of the trip we listen to the Hamilton soundtrack in comfortable silence.
Did we lose the mojo we had only recently found? Did we forget how to communicate in person? I worry about this as we walk in the house, and Nellie greets her older sister with a wet tongue and wagging tail.
“Let’s walk her,” my daughter suggests.
So we do.
This piece originally appeared on JMore Living. Since I wrote it, Gwen has returned home for the summer. We have lost Nellie and found Hazel, but we still take almost daily walks with our pup. The mojo has survived freshman year, and so has my girl.