My little girl left this week to go to outdoor education camp with her class. Okay, she’s not actually that little, I know, and she’s more than ready for a week away with her friends and teachers from school. But I was a bit teary and feeling tender as we pulled up to the school and schlepped her gear to the waiting bus. She saw my moist eyes and shot me a wide-eyed look of despair: please, please don’t gush and embarrass me with a million kisses and hugs, Mom!
But that’s all I wanted to do.
I wanted to squeeze her until the very last minute before she got on that school bus.
I held my enthusiasm in as much as I could. I knew she needed me to send her off strong. I took a deep breath and gathered my reserves. Suddenly I had a vivid memory of the first day I took her to daycare at 2 1/2 years old. She was a very social toddler and was interested in the new toys and the teachers that greeted us. I was encouraged to stay and play for a little while but then wisely told to move on without a lot of goodbyes or delays (those teachers are so smart!). It was terribly difficult to leave her, but I knew I had to go. I looked her in the eye as I stood at the door and signed “I LOVE YOU” before heading outside.
She knew that sign well from doing it at home together for months before this day. I did that ASL sign each and every time I left her at home with daddy or grandma, and we even signed it through the window when she'd see me arriving home from running my errands. So now at daycare, our I LOVE YOU sign routine was well established.
Time to put it into action, and day by day, it very slowly got easier to turn away and head out the door without her. Some days she cried when I left -tears would literally pour out of her eyes as she signed “I LOVE YOU” back to me. But some days she didn’t cry. Some days I would have to call her name to catch her eye as she ran in and began playing with another little friend. But either way, soon enough we created a confident routine that always included saying “I LOVE YOU” in sign language before separating, and it was all ours.
Back at the school bus outside her high school, I gave her a long hug and told her I loved her, and to enjoy every minute of camp and to tell me all about it when she got back. Then, because it was time for her to go, she turned around and started walking away, but before she got too far, I called her name and signed, “I LOVE YOU”. She smiled and signed it back to me, and I think both our hearts swelled.
To sign I LOVE YOU in American Sign Language, hold one hand up towards the other person with the pinky and index fingers and thumb extended.