It took 30 years and one transatlantic phone call for the actress to understand what her mother was talking about.
When I was 19, I received a $1,000 scholarship from Juilliard awarded to a girl or a boy who was hardworking, promising and needed money. And when they gave it to me, the administrator said, "Now you make sure you use this money to live on next year." Well, the next day I went and got my passport to go to Europe. And I called my mother. She was absolutely appalled and said, "You can't do that! You can't travel alone! What if something happens?" The poor woman, right? I said that she didn't understand, this was an opportunity, blah, blah, blah...I was so high-spirited, so determined. There was no discussion, and I was gone. I traveled in Europe by myself for six weeks.
And I remember my mother showing up at the airport when I got back. She was so happy to see me, so grateful that nothing had happened. Then she said, "I'm so proud of you."
Fast-forward to a few years ago. My 16-year-old daughter spends a school year in France living with a family—something called School Year Abroad. She's like me: headstrong, adventurous. She tells me she's going with another girl to Rome. By themselves. So this is not with the family, this is alone. I tell her, "I don't know if I want you to do this. You'd better be careful, blah, blah, blah...and hold on to your money. The trains there are very dangerous—I've heard a lot of stories about theft."
So she goes to Rome. And I think to myself, Well I did it—I have to let her do it.
But then we got a call very early one morning. "Mom," I heard this quiet voice saying, "We had our money stolen on the way to Rome. Can you wire us some more?" And of course I said, "I told you! What did I say?"
Oh, the anxiety we felt, and the anger, and the oh-my-God-my-daughter's-in-Rome-by-herself panic. And then it hit me. This is what my mother experienced raising a high-spirited, independent girl like me. Because my daughter is just like me. And I thought, "This is really hard. Things can go wrong! How did my mother do it?" Now I can see how difficult it was and how strong she was to let me go. I understood the depth of her feeling, her love, and her fear that something would happen. I felt such an appreciation for that, so many years later.
My mother died last August, and I found myself standing in the midst of her things, filled with all this emotion, this longing and missing. I realized once again how much she gave me, and all I want to do is give my children the same: the strength to love someone profoundly, and in the end let them be who they are.
From the January 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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