By Melinda Munson

The Nov. 5th ferry, the LeConte, carried away my oldest child for the last time. 

I mean this poetically. I’m sure she’ll be back to visit — but she no longer leaves our red shingled house with the intention to soon return.

She’s off to the Lower 48, the land of contiguous states, where she’ll have to remind people that Alaska is part of the U.S. She’ll enjoy restaurants open past 8 p.m. and milk that costs less than $7 per gallon.

We huddled into a group hug at the ferry terminal, not knowing the next time we’d see her wavy dark blonde hair and crooked smile. As the time came to depart, I frantically waved goodbye, watching her board the blue boat, wind whipping tears from my face as I stood on the point, as close to her as I physically could be for the last few minutes. 

You’d think with seven kids, losing one wouldn’t sting so much. It hurts deep. She’s my favorite — I tell all seven kids that.

I gave birth to our eldest at 24. I wanted to be a young mom so I could raise my kids, retire, join the Peace Corps and travel. (Joke’s on me. Our last adoption was three years ago. I’ll be 56 when he graduates from high school.)

Our eldest is one of two biological children. She came out so large and painful it was another seven years before I considered getting pregnant again. Everyone says you forget the agony of childbirth. Everyone must be a man who never dilated to a 10. To this day, I remember the back labor, the crowning, the wanting to die. I had an epidural, but some idiot turned down the pain meds.

Her birth was really the only grief she’s ever given me. A mellow baby, toddler and teenager, I got the mistaken impression that motherhood was easy. I blame her for the succession of children that followed. Had she been difficult, there would be half the Munsons and I would have a lot more free time.

I should be used to her leaving — this isn’t the first time she went away. Her junior year of high school, she embarked on Rotary Exchange to Germany. She left me a message when she arrived in-country.

“Hi, Mom. Call me back.” I did, but her phone didn’t work for nearly a week. 

I was disturbed that her message didn’t say, “Hi, Mom. My host family picked me up from the airport and everything is okay.” Or, “Hi, Mom. I didn’t get kidnapped by child traffickers and everything is fine.” 

This is how she communicates. Understated, non-specific, lacking details. I’ve learned to live with it. It’s a welcome relief from some of her siblings who over-communicate. For instance, our 18-year-old with special needs who narrates every action.

“And now I will brush my teeth.”

“And now I will use the bathroom.”

“And now I will hit my brother.” 

Our oldest is so different from me I marvel that I made half her bones. She is calm, walks away from unhealthy confrontation and doesn’t give a flying flip what you, Uncle Bob or society thinks about her life choices.

When she reaches her final destination, I’ll get a simple message. 

“Hi, Mom. Call me back.”