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Long Distance Daughter

by Ferida Wolff

The telephone rang and I knew with a mother's instinct that it was my daughter calling. Her home is not so far away, only about three hours, a relatively easy visiting distance. But it also is not around the corner, not convenient for getting together for lunch or afternoon tea. So we chat on the phone.

Today we shared memories of a family cabin up in New England where each summer we spent time with her grandparents. We talked about picking fresh vegetables for our dinner from the garden her grandmother so carefully tended. She remembered the wooden footbridge where she and her younger brother threw crabapples upstream watching to see which would appear first on the other side. We reminisced about the steep, rocky slope that led to the welcoming log house at the top of the hill. We laughed about the trips to Glendale Falls where we walked on slippery rocks while the water striders skimmed past our legs and where we once met a group of burly campers bathing in water so cold we could hardly bare to stand in it.

There was great fondness in the memories for us. We find comfort in these remembrances now that her grandparents are physically infirm and her other grandmother, my mother, has Alzheimer's disease and doesn't seem to remember who this loving granddaughter is.

Sometimes we discuss the world's problems and come up with our own solutions for world peace. Not today. Today our personal worlds needed attention.

We talked about the term paper she was researching for a graduate class that she didn't really want to take but needed, and how hard it was to spare the time to gather the material, no less write the paper. I griped about the manuscript that came back in the mail after an incredible eight months. We commiserated about the swiftness of our days, hers spent teaching, mine writing. But there was comfort in this, knowing that no matter how large a pity party we threw for ourselves, the person on the other end of the phone line would not think any less of us.

It wasn't always this way, this easy communication between us. When she was a junior in high school, we started a quiet war. Nothing she did pleased me and everything I did embarrassed her. When she left for college, it was to our mutual relief. I have heard this from many mothers, that their relationships with their daughters was so frayed by the time that high school graduation came around, everyone was glad for the separation.

Their daughters would come home after their first semester away, as different people. Happy to be back. More loving. More understanding. Distance softened the strain. Teenage adversaries turned into women friends through the alchemy of perspective.

When I speak with this woman, my daughter, now, I am careful with her feelings. I treat her with the respect I show any of my contemporary women friends. Part of this shift comes from knowing that should I cross the line back into controlling parent, she will have no qualms about letting me know it is inappropriate. But the greater part comes from the genuine pleasure I get from this new relationship. Slowly, I am releasing the roles I have played in her life to become a spontaneous, joyful companion. I still provide emotional chicken soup when necessary but it is the verbal kind and I find that I am freer to ask for my daughter's advice, her compassion, her support in a woman-to-woman way. Age is no longer relevant - it is understanding and experience that counts. We have much to teach each other and even more to share.

And if she chooses to have children of her own, our female bond will increase and roles shift again.

I know this long distance daughter will not be coming back to live near me. Her life has taken her in other directions.

So we chat on the phone. Our conversations, once or twice a week, are long. We never plan them to be, it just happens as one topic segues into another. There are points when it is possible to end, to let the tenuous electrical impulse go and we recognize the moments but we let them slip into a few minutes more, reluctant to say goodbye quite yet.

When we hang up at last, we each sigh and are glad that we live in times where it is possible for long distance daughters and mothers to give each other long distance hugs. Our teatimes will remain fantasies that stretch over the cellular and digital miles, at least for the foreseeable future. In our busy lives, however, those three hours that might have been an insurmountable barrier diminishing our connections, have been bridged by the telephone. Our knowledge of each other as relatives, as friends, as women grows.

And so does our love.

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