Senior year teaches parents what parents initially taught their child: how to sit, crawl, stand, walk, and finally, how to let go. For this rite of passage, I wanted 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 details of the search to be over, and then knowing when it is over, you’re going to do the ugly cry. For some of us it will be a virgin voyage, for others, the beginning of an empty nest. Either way, it’s a niggling uncertainty over where our lives will take us now that we don’t have to buy food in bulk.
Logically, I understood this was a natural transition, but it didn’t feel natural at all. My brain was divided into two systems of happy and distressed and within those systems were branches of infinite emotions.
Two weeks prior to her leaving, this was me:
- I have a headache.
- 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…
- This is gonna be great!
- Xanax, anyone?
I knew from the moment she was born that this day would come, that the process of letting her go began when 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 career decisions. I watched her mature 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. Family life as we knew it was about to change, and I didn’t feel ready for it. I wanted to put a camera in her college dorm so I could be part of her life on a daily basis – not because I’m creepy, but because I didn’t want to miss a day in her life.
Yes, I know. It sounds wicked creepy, even though I’ve clarified myself.
I felt compelled to text her daily, skype her, and send her informative articles on her major.
Way past encroaching on helicopter mom territory. Duly noted.
After years of encouraging independence, this desire to micromanage my daughter confused me. It wasn’t like I wanted to do it forever mind you, only until it was my turn to visit life everlasting.
Oh, give me a break.
Moving day wasn’t as dramatic as I’d predicted. My daughter was beaming, and I realized it was hard to be sad seeing her this happy. 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 to cry in the messiest way possible, I wanted to spare my family the drama. I hugged her, handed her the note, and casually said, “So, give me a call.” “I will,” she smiled. Her body was already turned away, ready to bolt for freedom.
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 to leave before turning back for one last look. She was walking away from us, toward a friend’s dorm and low and behold, I didn’t see my four-year-old pixie. I saw a beautiful, young woman venturing out into the wide, wide world. 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.
With each passing week, I found myself feeling better. My daughter had met great friends and was adjusting to her new life. And that’s what I wanted. I wanted her to thrive and grow and bloom, and she couldn’t do that under my supervision. 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 opportunities and higher learning, new relationships and dorm partying. This is the time of their lives, their introduction into adulthood without the adult baggage that will come soon enough.
Before my daughter left, the thought of inevitable change frightened me, but it’s not change we should fear. What will cripple us is the not letting go. Over time, I’ve adjusted to our family’s new normal of one less person in the house. Although I still miss my daughter, I can only think of two words to describe her future: how exciting!
Prologue: Since this initial blog, my third and final child left for college. My older two have moved out and for the first time in 26 years, my husband and I became empty nesters. There are still many days when my brain functions on two systems with branches of emotions. I miss the babies I had, but I’m also a wife who was able to become reacquainted with the guy she became starry-eyed over many moons ago. Our initial response to being empty nesters: the roost has been reclaimed!