Out in the Open

This mom's struggle to let go of her teen started way too early

Like many parents, Garvia Bailey is preparing to give up control as her child approaches adulthood. But that heartbreaking process of letting go started for Bailey long before her daughter became a teen.

'She's been training me for a while now,' says Garvia Bailey

Garvia Bailey and her daughter, Kaya. (Justin Morris )

Garvia Bailey is the mom of a teenager. And, like a lot parents, she's struggling with how much control to give up as her kid approaches adulthood. But, for Bailey, that often heartbreaking process of letting go is something she's been contending with long before her daughter became a teen. She explains in an essay for Out in the Open:

Our conversations are not what I expected, or what I had been trained to expect, in raising a teenage daughter. 

Take, going to parties and all that might entail — smoking pot, drinking, getting high, getting caught up in 'situations.'

It's a THING with teenagers. I've seen the movies. I've read the think pieces. I've looked at snapchat. I know it's a thing.

And, just a few days ago, that THING stared me in the face. 

There was a party my just turned 17-year-old daughter was going to. She was suppose to sleep over at the home of her host , a close friend of hers. 

But, at some point in the middle of the night, she decided to come home. I heard a key in the lock at 4am. 

This was not the plan. I'm alarmed. Any parent of a teenage girl would be alarmed.

So, I let her tiptoe down the hall. I listen to her do her bathroom things. And, then, I jump out of bed, stride to her room and knock on her door. 

All casual like, I say, "What's up? Why are you home?" 

She says she's fine. She says it's not a big deal. She says it's ok and that we'll talk in the morning, that she just wanted to be home. 

I do the things we do as parents of teens. Listen carefully for tone. Ears attuned to cadence and the telltale signs of deception. (Pro-tip, you can hear it in their breathing.) 

I detect nothing. She did seem alright, in control. She seemed herself. My close to six foot tall, angel faced daughter is fine. 

I should be anxious. I should be wide awake waiting for her to roll out of bed at noon and explain what happened. But, nah. She's been training me for awhile now. 

I went back to bed and slept soundly.

As parents we are told to hold them tight for as long as possible, and slowly, especially in their teens, they force you to loosen your grip, one excruciating finger at a time.

I've heard it's painful during these years. But, in our case, the process of letting go started so heartbreakingly early. 

Kaya was born with her eyes wide open, huge black eyes and the most steady gaze I have ever seen in a brand new human. "I've got this" is what those eyes said. 
Me, on the other hand, I  was prickly and nervous and ill-prepared and I wanted to throw up and send her home with the midwives.

But my feelings didn't matter. She was here and I was her mom. 

Kaya's march toward her teens wasn't typical. 

It took me and her dad almost eight years to finally be given a reason for our daughter's peculiarity, the cause of this steady gaze. 

For the first eight years of her life, we had a little girl who would cry inconsolably for days at a time. Her little hand pointing to her elbow, to her knee, to her back, back to her elbow. Now, it's her shoulder. 

They never hurt all at once. The excruciating pain she was in moved from one part of her body to the next. It was like a cruel apparition, a poltergeist plaguing and taunting and hurting our child. 

Her sickle cell diagnosis came one day when she couldn't walk and was carried into an emergency room. It was there that a very on-the ball nurse, the nurse we waited eight years for, asked the question, "Has she been tested for sickle cell?" 

I was holding Kaya and felt, in her weight, the sudden crushing guilt of years of failure, of not putting it together. Black mom, black dad, with a genetic history of the disease in the family. 

Kaya's first taste of the sunken, muted world of morphine drips and oxygen tanks started that day. I looked at her with the IV and the oxygen mask. As the drug hit her, she looked back with her black, deep, deep eyes and she gave me a little thumbs up. 

Her look said, "It's ok. I've got this. You can loosen your grip." 

The out of body experience, the feeling of being connected but totally unconnected as Kaya's mom started right there. The disease, had in a way, turned my child into her own parent. 

You see, try as I might, I can't predict what may or may not trigger an attack or the telltale signs of it's imminent arrival. But she knows. She knows when tired is verging on too tired. She can tell if a tweeky pain in her leg or her back needs a full drug cocktail or maybe a little less, along with a day or a week or a couple of weeks off of school. 

It's her body, only she feels it. So, she had to take control.

I, on the other hand, totally out of control, flailing a bit, trying my best to follow her lead. 

By the time her teens years really hit me, hit us, the inevitable discussions around drinking, dating, sex and relationships felt strangely muted under the weight of this OTHER thing. 

To this day, I feel like her decisions are filtered through the lens of her disease. 

She wants to party with her friends, but she never stays out too late. That was not me at her age. 

Her friends are experimenting with pot and LSD. And, like most conversations with her, she approached me with that news in a straightforward, unembellished information dump. 

Of course, I had to go through the internal process of restarting my heard as she told me the story of going to a friend's cottage, where one of them dropped acid on the beach and lost the plot. He ended up in a cold shower, babbling to himself. 

So, I approached her with the questions. "So, what about pot and drugs? What's happening? Is it a thing for you?" 

Her reply, "I've already been high because, you know, the morphine. When I get sick, it's all about the morphine. I know how it feels. I don't need to get high for entertainment."

Can I share a secret with you? I kinda feel cheated by that answer. I didn't get the chance to hold her too tight, to rage at bad decisions and come to the realization that as an almost adult, the decisions, good or bad, are all hers. 

But, I guess it's ok. She's got this.

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Letting Go"