Senior year teaches parents what parents initially taught their child: how to sit, crawl, stand, walk, and finally, how to let go. For this year long new rite of passage, I found it necessary to commiserate with women who were walking in my shoes, consumed by the crazy senior year agenda that included visits to campuses, financial aid and college dorm shopping. It’s a good nine months of vacillating between wanting the tedious deets of the search to be over, and knowing when it is over, you’re going to do the ugly cry. For some of us, this was a virgin voyage; for others, it was the beginning of an empty nest and uncertainty over where our lives would take us now that we didn’t have to buy food in bulk.
I didn’t want to hear parenting advice on how I should embrace this exciting milestone and look upon it as a magical time for both me and my child. Logically, I understood this was a natural transition, but for me, this had nothing to do with logic, it had to do with emotion. For the past 18 years, I could pinpoint my daughter’s whereabouts on any given day, and now I was hoping for the occasional touch base text. My breakfast of champions was putting every emotion I owned into a blender and waiting to see which one was poured into the glass first. This natural transition didn’t feel natural at all. I pleasantly nodded to those who freely dished out unsolicited advice and told me to take a deep breath. Things would never be the same, and I wasn’t ready for it.
I knew from the moment she was born that this day would come, that the process of letting her go began the minute she took her first steps. I raised her to be independent, so that she would leave our nest armed with basic knowledge, from household chores to grocery shopping to business and career decisions. I watched as she developed into an individual with a strong sense of determination and responsibility. I covered all the ethical and moral bases I could think of because I knew that soon enough the time would come for her to venture out on her own. What I didn’t know was how fast “soon” would come careening around the corner. I want to pick her class schedule, choose her friends, put a camera in her college dorm so I can be part of her life on a daily basis – not because I’m creepy, but because I don’t want to miss one day of her life.
Yes, I know. It does sound creepy, even though I’ve clarified myself.
I want to text her constantly, skype her, call her hourly, and send her emails.
Wicked creepy. Duly noted.
After years of encouraging independence, I found that I wasn’t patting myself on the back for a job well done, but desiring to micromanage her – not forever mind you, only until it’s my turn to visit life everlasting.
Oh, give me a break. Two weeks prior to her leaving, this was me:
- I have a headache.
- My lower back is killing me. It might even be broken.
- I’m so excited for her!
- My jaw hurts. My sinuses hurt. Everything hurts.
- Yay, she got into her first choice!
- I think I’m getting sick. I’m sick. I just might be dying.
- Can’t wait to go dorm shopping, whoop!
- The air is too thick; I can’t take a deep breath. Where the hell has the oxygen gone?
- Funny, I don’t remember drinking 10 cups of caffeine this morning, yet…
- WTH, I’m a bloated pig. Forget this, I’m taking Xanax.
- I’m so excited for her!
Moving day didn’t turn out as dramatic as I’d predicted. After a morning of unloading and room decorating, my spirits were lifted. My daughter was beaming, and I realized it was hard to be sad seeing her this happy. During lunch, my twelve-year-old asked, “Do you get to eat like this every day or only because we’re here?” When she answered, “Every day,” I thought he would ask for his own room. Crème brulée and soft serve ice cream? Yes, please.
I envisioned our goodbye a bittersweet parting. We’d hug, wipe away a few tears and I’d hand her a letter I had written that summed up my belief about the strong woman she had become. That was not the exit. We were surrounded by dozens of people, and although I was perfectly able and willing to cry in the messiest way possible, I wanted to spare my family from such a scene. I hugged her, handed her the note, and pulled the maternal parachute chord. “So, give me a call,” I said. “I will,” she smiled, her body in that half turn ready to bolt stance.
She made it four steps before I dove like a linebacker and death gripped her ankle.
Aw, come on.
No, I didn’t. I turned away and then turned back for one last look. She was walking away from us, toward a friend’s dorm and low and behold, it wasn’t my four-year-old cutie pie anymore; it was a beautiful, young woman venturing out into the wide, wide world. On the way home, I did what I needed to do. I cried. I went to bed crying and woke up crying. I went grocery shopping and in the produce section, “Hey, Soul Sister” blared over the intercom. More tears. It’s not easy to pick non-bruised fruit through tear stained eyes.
Over the course of two days torrential tears switched to heavy downpours to light showers, and finally to sprinkles. My tears emancipated me, and little by little, my aches and pains disappeared. I felt my jaw unclench and my body relax, and more importantly, was extremely happy for my daughter. I want her to thrive and grow and bloom, and she can’t do that under my supervision because I’d just be telling her what to do and how to do it, and that is not a mother’s job. My job is to let go.
As parents, we hope that the college years will be filled with a maturity that develops with higher learning, new relationships and dorm partying. This is the time of their lives, their opportunity to learn how to be an adult without the adult baggage that will come to them soon enough. Before she left, the thought of inevitable change frightened me. I feared that my mystical maternal instinct, the one that has not failed to alert me when my kids need me, was going to go haywire if my daughter wasn’t physically home. It didn’t. Things have inevitably shifted. Things will continue to shift. Change is hard for humans, but it’s not change we should fear. It’s the not letting go that will cripple us. Over time, I adjusted to our family’s new normal of one less person in the house, and although I still missed my daughter, I could only think of two words to describe her future: how exciting!