Britta Gustafson: Fly, Little Butterfly |

Britta Gustafson: Fly, Little Butterfly

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

I’m one who thrives when I feel tethered. I have a deep inner longing to feel rooted to places, to people, to a purpose. Perhaps this feeling stems from concern that I might just float away if not connected to my world in some tangible measure.

The day I gave birth to my daughter, the transformative moment she entered this world, I felt instantly, deeply connected to the idea of motherhood, to this new little person, and to a revived sense of purpose. I cradled my new baby’s small head in my hands and she looked up at me with familiarity in her sparkling new eyes, and I spoke softly through blissful tears “Hi, baby, welcome to the world.”

For the past nine months I had been talking to a vision, an abstract being, she had felt like a piece of me; and now here she was, her own little self. We were still physically connected at that moment, but even after the cord was cut, the connection continued to deepen. There were times when I could hardly bear to put her down. Still, slowly she moved from my bed to a bedside bassinet and then to her own room. I went to her throughout the long nights of that first year, but less and less frequently as time progressed. It was a colorful labyrinth of endless surprises that continue still.

And our orbit began to slowly expand. Crawling, then running and the first day of preschool came quickly. That day, the tears belonged mostly to me, filled more than anything with a shocking disbelief at how fast it had all gone by — those first precious years.

In a blink kindergarten was upon us. She still clung to me that first day, her strong hugs brimming with our mutual feelings of excitement muddled in apprehension. I watched her lineup with all those innocent little 5-year-olds and their miniature backpacks, bright eyes filled with wonder and their sweet squishy cheeks. Off they went on a journey that was no longer within my immediate sphere of influence.

What a journey it has been. One that seemed to continue to accelerate; the more time that passed, the faster it seemed to fly by. And the further she seemed to be moving out into her own universe. Up until then, my children had both felt like my little moons in constant orbit around me, always circling back to be sure I was near, as if a force of nature were allowing them just enough room to explore before gravity pulled them back toward me, keeping us close.

Still those elementary school years provided more and more distance, our strings of attachment stretching, growing thinner. First, there were sleepovers. I would climb into my own bed for the first time since she was born, without a kiss goodnight. It felt in some ways paralyzing, like I was missing an appendage, but a sense of solace came in knowing that she was adjusting to the space between us.

Before long there was third-grade Outdoor Ed, and for the first time she wanted to venture out on her own. At her request, I had to resist my instinct to volunteer to join the trip. It hurt my heart, not in a sad, broken-hearted way, but rather the kind of inevitable heartache that I saw coming, along with the inescapable realization that nothing lasts forever. And that impermanence is what makes it all so painfully beautiful.

So now here we stand at the threshold of the next chapter. A decade into this journey together. The shortest 10 years of my life.

This week, as her elementary years come to a close, I felt the space between us take a chasmic leap. Dropping her off last Monday for her fourth-grade Outdoor Ed trip to Mesa Verde for her first, week-long parent-free adventure was bitter sweet. After a quick hug while we were scrambling about in the snowy-rain, double checking gear and signing waivers, I turned around to see her disappearing onto the bus, not looking back.

And for the first time, since I first gazed into her new little eyes, I suddenly felt light-headed, untethered, floating adrift; our orbit expanding beyond my reach. I can’t pull her in, she has to circle back on her own accord.

It was a long detached moment of mixed emotions.

But once I resurfaced from my inner journey, all I could think was “fly, little butterfly,” as I watched her take off — her ever-expanding periphery in full bloom.

Middle school here we come.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at


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