The cruelest truth of parenting: If you do it right, they leave.
I’d done my reading. I knew that from the moment I got that baby in my arms, my job was to prepare her to go. I understood. I’d done it myself, to my own mother. So I concocted a foolproof evasion.
As our eldest approached adolescence, I created an adventure so adventurey that it would foil the designed entropy of human development.
When our kids were five, nine, and twelve, we moved to a tiny mountain town in Costa Rica. For the obvious reasons—slow down, step outside consumer culture, blah, blah, blah. I wanted to live a life a little less obsessive Type A, and for our family to spend less time at practices, more time together.
The plan was clearly brilliant. In our new world, our kids were more a team than they’d ever been back home.
“You guys will not believe how milk works here!” Hannah, Harry, and five-year-old Ivy burst in from a mission to the grocery store, where they had discovered giant, metal silos. Strictly local and straight from the town’s dairy, the silo milk could be dispensed into a vessel of our own choosing. We’d never experienced milk that had been, so recently, encowed.
The early weeks were filled with such marvels, shared among ourselves. We were all we had.
In no way did I intend “I want us to be closer as a family” to translate to “Let’s take our adolescent daughter to a place where she can’t speak the language and knows no one; then she’ll have to stick with us.” But the fact remains: Speaking no Spanish, we moved to Central America, and to a house so isolated you had to walk ten minutes to find another person. Hannah was almost 13 — time to fly, little bird — but I had her now.
And then, without warning, she vanished.
My own teenage disappearing act had been strictly by the book: into friends and football games and anyone- is-more-exciting-than-my-parents. As an adult, I thus assumed that adolescent separation required a destination—a world to separate to.
But we were strangers in a strange land and Hannah had no not-us destination. She disappeared in place.
Our rented mountaintop house was built by people who liked each other, who wanted to be able to chat no matter what else they were doing. Kitchen, living, and dining rooms were all one inviting space. Sliding doors to the wraparound deck opened wide, erasing the distinction between inside and out. It was a little like living in a sidewalk café. Everything about our house was about being together within it.
Hannah’s loft bedroom was the sole exception, its own little world. Her space came complete with tiny bathroom and its very own picture windows from which to gaze at the sweeping view. She claimed her loft with wonder. “How can I know this is what I always wanted, when I’d never seen it until now?”
The space was a perfect match for the other thing Hannah had always wanted.
“I have so much time here…I can read anything …”
Hannah made her bedroom, this lovely top-floor viewpoint from which you could see the world, into an escape from it. In this house that was designed around being together, Hannah found a way to be apart. She turned 13 up there, moving into solitude as if it were some kind of destiny; it didn’t have the feel of a phase.