I sent my oldest daughter off to college six weeks ago. As with most moms, this has been a very bittersweet time for me. Joy, pride, and an unbelievable sense of overwhelming gratitude have battled with sadness, angst and fear.
My oldest daughter has always been the bright and shining beacon of things in my life that I didn’t screw up…too badly. I had her when I was 19, during my own Freshman year of college. I considered adoption, but never actually chose a family. I think the hesitation on my part was God’s way of saying “You will have this child in your life for a reason. Accept and embrace it.” And I cannot tell you how many times I’ve agreed.
Oh, raising her was hard. Don’t get me wrong. I did a good deal of it on my own, as her father was just as unprepared for parenthood as I was, but he hadn’t had those maternal hormones to help him make the change. He was always involved in her life, but not often in mine, which meant I was missing the support of a full time mate. We tried being married for awhile, and I got a great son out of that, but we just weren’t made for each other.
I had been mentally preparing myself for this whole college thing for about a year. If anything, I’m a plan-ahead type of girl. I knew she would be going away to colldge, and honestly, I wanted her to go away to school, instead of staying local. I wanted her to meet new people, to have exciting adventures, and to go out in the world ready to kick it in the teeth, rather than stay nearby with the same people she had grown up with, hanging out at the same places she had in high school, and feeling like she had missed out on life. I wanted these things for her so badly that I could taste them, but I knew when the time came, I’d be an emotional wreck.
As her senior year in high school progressed, I began to get more anxious and excited for her. It’s amazing how a mother can feel both dread and eagerness at the same time. Sending out invitations to her graduation made me happy, even in the midst of the overwhelming details involved in hosting several out of town family members, including her father and step mom and siblings, as well as my side of the family. Did I mention the two sides of the family hate each other?
As I watched her walk down the aisle at her graduation, my tears started flowing. As with most moms, these weren’t tears of sadness. I was so proud of my baby girl! When she broke down and cried during her Valedictorian speech, my heart nearly burst. Note to self: never wear mascara to your child’s graduation. Even if it’s waterproof.
She spent most of her summer away. She works at a summer camp, and then spent some time with her dad. When she came home there was a packing frenzy as she tried to decide what to take and what to leave behind. There was also a rollercoaster of emotions on both of our parts. We had a long talk one night when she decided she wasn’t going to go. The pain of leaving behind the people she had spent her life growing up with was just too great. I held her hand, and told her to be strong, and gave her what has become my resounding message to her: You are just beginning what will be the greatest adventure of your life. Accept it and embrace it.
A week before she left, I sent her a note. It was a perfectly awful piece of poetry, which I’ll spare you here, but the gist of it was that while I would miss her, I wanted her to go out and live her life to the fullest, and that I would spare her having to see my tears. She had enough guilt from leaving her childhood friends; she didn’t need any from me.
The day of her leaving dawned hot and clear. It was a beautiful day. A dear friend of ours helped her take her things out to her new home. We were unable to make the trip-I couldn’t afford to take off work and the cost of two nights in two hotel rooms for Mr. B., myself and the tribe was just too much. As we said our goodbyes, I kept to my promise of no tears. I watched her say goodbye to her brothers and sisters, and to the man she calls her “Second Dad.” I hugged her and kissed her and told her I was proud of her and that I loved her. And I didn’t cry. It was, honestly, the second hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
As she walked down the sidewalk to meet her ride, I watched her walk away. I watched until I couldn’t see her anymore. And then I sat down there on the ground, and cried.
When I got myself back together, I went back into the house. I think all of us kind of walked around in a daze that day. Mr. B. was very sweet, trying to keep the kids occupied so I could have my little moments. But I stood tall and helped them; having their sister go away to college was rough on them, too. I broke down again after everyone was in bed, but when I woke up the next morning, I was able to put my grief aside and see the positive side.
I spent the first few days texting her often, and stalking her on facebook. I found her school’s calendar online, and encouraged her to attend all the new student activities. I’ve heard about her difficulties with classes, and her joy in making new friends. I’ve even dealt with a few bouts of homesickness. As the weeks have gone by, I have purposely backed away from the hovering of the first few days. I wanted her to know I was there for her, and would be supportive of her, but I also want her to know that she’s got to live her life for her.
Now that it’s been six weeks, the sad moments are much less. Oh sure, I broke down crying as I was writing this, but all in all, we’ve all done really well in dealing with this monumental change in our lives. My oldest son calls her every few days, she and I text often, and I still log in to facebook to check in on what she’s been up to. I don’t feel the sadness I was afraid I was going to feel, as my first chick left the safety of her nest. Mostly, I feel joy. Joy that my daughter is making new friends, and having new adventures, and being exposed to new people, places, ideas, and things.
I know she will be different when she comes home. Exposure to all of these new things will re-mold her, possibly even in to someone I don’t readily recognize. And I find myself oddly excited by that. While I’ve raised her to be strong and reasonably fearless and open and caring, the making of the rest of the person she will become is up to her, now. And I can’t wait to see how she turns out!
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