Over the past few weeks, I, along with ten of my closest friends, have taken turns saying our goodbyes to our college bound kids. For some of us, this was a virgin voyage; for others, it was the beginning of an empty nest. Our kids are anywhere from twenty minutes away to clear across the country. I can say with certainty that this is a process one would have to experience before understanding how it feels to begin at “Senior year Point A” and arrive at “Senior year Point B”, and beyond. For this year long rite of passage phase, I found it necessary to commiserate with women who were walking in my shoes, consumed with the crazy agenda of senior year banquets compounded by College 101 that included visits to campuses, financial aid and loan information. An eye opening, informative, pull your hair out in frustration agenda where you considered throttling your graduating senior, and anyone else who was unfortunate enough to cross your immediate path. Senior year is a twelve month curriculum that teaches parents what parents initially taught their child: how to sit, crawl, stand, walk, and finally, how to let go.
During this time, I had no desire to be told by anyone who had gone before me, or those who had not yet been there, that it was all going to be okay. 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. The mere thought of driving my daughter to a foreign place and depositing her at a campus pulled at my heartstrings and was initially processed in my cerebral cortex as one of the most unnatural natural transitions I could ever imagine. Over the past 18 years, I’ve fed her, bathed her, nursed her, took care of her when she sick, held her when she cried, and cuddled with her whenever she let me. I’ve known where she’s been, who with, and when she got home. I knew if she was eating, sleeping, I knew all her friends by name, and what she did on any given day. So although I did pleasantly nod to those who freely dished out unsolicited advice and told me to take a deep breath and that it would all be okay, this is what I was thinking: Oh, shut it. I know fact from fiction. Things will never be the same again. She’s not going to be in my house anymore and it just doesn’t sit right.
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 the nest armed with basic knowledge: household chores, simple meals, bake, balance a checkbook, check her online banking, and on occasion, I had her grocery shop so that she could understand the value of a dollar – and a coupon. I made sure that socially she was able to look people in the eye and ask for what she wanted or needed in stores or at places of employment. Through the years, I watched as she developed into an individual with a strong sense of determination and responsibility. I tried to cover 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 arrive. And now that soon is here, 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 clarified myself. Not seeing her daily after 18 years is not easy to quit cold turkey. I want to text her constantly, skype her, call her hourly, and send her emails.
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. The past year has been like putting every emotion I own into a blender and then, on a daily basis, waiting to see what emotion will be poured into the glass first. I’m like the weather, a temporary status of the atmosphere, never constant from one minute to the next. On some days I feel volcanic hot, on others arctic cold. I have been coastal happy and head in the hilly mountains spaced out.
And while my daughter was fully prepared to venture out into the wide, wide world, I was dragging my feet. Luckily, the part of my rational brain that was functioning was able to quell my swirling thoughts enough so that the inner typhoon of worry and fantasy projection wasn’t extracted into reality. The outcropping, for the most part, was kept to myself.
The two weeks previous to her leaving, this was me:
· I have a headache.
· My lower back is killing me. It might even be broken.
· My jaw hurts.
· My sinuses hurt.
· Everything hurts.
· I think I’m getting sick.
· Am I sick?
· I’m sick. I just might be dying.
· 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…
· Forget this, I’m taking Xanax.
· Never in my life have I been so drained and tired.
· I’m hungry.
· I’m not hungry.
· I’m a bloated pig.
· I’m so excited for her!
· This sucks.
Ah yes, the ol’aches and pains to distract myself from the truth: a child was moving out.
When their kids first left, some of my friends said/did this:
· It gets better; the week before is worse than the actual day.
· I came home and sat in his room and wrote him a long email.
· I needed to drive home alone.
· Once you see her settled in, you’ll finally get some sleep.
· It’s a tough few days, but it does get better.
· I just don’t feel myself, physically or mentally.
· It’s a shift in your whole being.
· Don’t attempt to concentrate for a couple of days; go easy and take things slow.
· I’ve decided that I’m going to pretend they’re sleeping over a friend’s house for now.
· I still walk in their bedroom every night, I can’t help it.
· We’re changing his/her bedroom.
· I will not change his/her bedroom.
· I’m visiting once a week.
· I text every day.
· I skype every night.
· My house feels empty and quiet, even with the other kids around.
For me and my friends, our mind’s eye recognizes that these are young adults, but our hearts are saying goodbye to our four-year-old cutie pies. I wasn’t worried about my daughter; logically I knew she’d be okay. I was worried about ME, and if I would be okay without her.
As morose as this may sound, the two-hour trip produced an inner turmoil one feels when going to a wake – a sense of trepidation that I was going to be dealing with a situation that was both difficult and emotional. Even though I knew it was the next right step for my daughter, I dreaded the end of the day.
Turns out, the day didn’t turn out as dramatic as I had thought. We spent the morning unloading the car and trasnporting an enormous amount of luggage to a room I wasn’t sure would fit it all. Then we unpacked, decorated and went to lunch. By mid-morning, my spirits had lifted. It was a nice school, she has a sunny room with a good view, and a sweet roommate. The enormous gym is clean, there are more than ample clubs to join, and she will never be at a loss for a good book to read or an event to attend. 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 a soft serve ice cream machine? Yes, please. I can’t say I blame the boy!
My exit strategy was planned and simple. My vision was us hugging and crying to the count of a few deep sobs. Then I’d hand her a letter I had written the night before. We’d smile and go our separate ways. It would be very emotional, indeed.
This is what happened: We were outside surrounded by dozens of people, and although I was perfectly able and willing to cry in the messiest way possible, I didn’t want to embarrass or upset my daughter and leave her high and dry on the school lawn. I hugged her, told her I loved her and handed her the note. I wanted to say more, something profound, but I was so choked up that if I dared open my mouth I would have erupted in a flood of tears. I looked at her, mentally pulled the maternal parachute chord, and jumped.
“So call me,” I said.
“I will,” she replied.
Then she walked away. She made it four steps before I dove like a linebacker to the ground and death gripped her ankle.
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 going out into the wide, wide world.
On the way home, I did what I needed to do.
I cried…and cried…and cried some more. For a full two hours, I didn’t stopped crying. 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, but I managed. Over the course of two days the torrential tears switched to heavy downpours, then to light showers, and finally to sprinkles. During my cryfest, all my aches and pains disappeared. I felt my jaw unclench and my body relax. My tears, which continue to flow now and then, are letting go tears, the free flowing kind that you can’t blink away, the ones that emancipate you little by little. I am 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 so yes, I’ll trade some tears for that.
It’s been four days for me and two weeks for some of my friends. So far, all of our kids are happy at there respective colleges. And why shouldn’t they be? This is the time of their lives. This is their opportunity to learn how to be an adult without all of the adult baggage, like the stress of work and mortgage and spouses.
For the past few weeks, I was lost in an unsettling mindset – that change was going to be unavoidably thrust upon me whether I liked it or not. And it was. 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 she weren’t physically in the home. It didn’t. Things have inevitably shifted. Things will always shift. And guess what? The doors to hell didn’t suck us all in. We’re all going to be okay.
Comments for this blog can be found at: http://jodiblase.com/jodiblog/2/post/2010/09/off-to-college-away-from-home.html#comments