One morning a couple summers ago, my college daughter was backing her car out of our driveway just as I was turning in on foot. I’d left the house for my daily walk up and down our country road without seeing her or telling her goodbye before she left for her nannying job, so when I saw her heading to her car from my vantage point a little ways down the street, I circled back to send her off.
As we met at the end of our drive, she put her window down and told me, “I was coming to look for you!”
My daughter didn’t need anything from me. Nothing was wrong. She didn’t have anything she had to tell me. She just wanted to say goodbye, just for the day. So she was coming to look for me.
As parents, we look for our children their whole lives.
We look for those telltale lines on a pregnancy test or for a phone call from the adoption agency. We look for our babies to be born. We look to make sure they’re breathing in their cribs. We look for them when we play peekaboo or hide-and-seek. We look for them “hiding” in plain sight with their hands over their eyes, thinking that because they can’t see us, we can’t see them. They don’t know yet that we always see them, even when it’s just in our mind’s eye.
We look, frantically, for our children when they sometimes wander off at the grocery store or the library or the playground — in that one split second when we aren’t looking.
We look for them when they come out of school or get off the bus, trying to gauge what kind of day they’ve had by what we see on their faces…hoping for some advance notice of whether we’re going to need to commiserate or congratulate.
If they are dancers, we look for them in recitals and try to pick them out of all the other ballerinas wearing the same costume and doing the same moves (parents of little boy dancers may have an easier time of this). If they are athletes, we look for them on playing fields and try to find them among the uniforms that are aptly named because they all blend together. If they are musicians or actors, we look for them to emerge from the wings and take their place on stage.
When our teenagers learn to drive, we look for “I’m here” texts and for headlights turning into the driveway at night, and we breathe a sigh of relief every time.
We look for them, eventually, in a long line of gowned graduates processing into a stadium or gymnasium at a high school commencement.
We look for them when they come home from college or jobs or their own homes. We look for them coming up the sidewalk or through the arrival gate at the airport.
It is a privilege, this looking.
It speaks of relationship and connection and of our place in our children’s lives that no one else occupies. But at some point—usually on some ordinary day when we’re doing ordinary things, like taking a morning walk—our big kids start looking for us, too.
They look for us in the crowd at their ceremonies and celebrations. They look for us when we’re away and they’re the ones at home, waiting for us. They look, sometimes, for our advice. They look for our confirmation that they’ve done the right thing. They look for our reassurance that we still love them even when they’ve done the wrong thing. They look for our comfort and our presence.
And when this happens—when the children we’ve sought their whole lives start seeking us—we know we’ve found something new and wonderful. Something we were looking for, all along.