Everyone’s been asking about how I’m doing with my last child leaving for college. “I’m fine,” I reply. “Surprisingly good, I am just so excited for her.” And it’s true, what a different experience this time around. I’m not gathering up baby pictures and memories. We are way behind on dorm shopping, and I’m okay with it. I’m not even making lists. It’s been so different from when we walked this road with my son two years ago. So much has changed, mostly me.
And how can I respond with anything but excitement and pride when my beautiful daughter is going to her dream school? When she’s earned her place there and it feels like the perfect spot for her to learn and grow? When it’s only forty-five minutes away and she’s the type who will be in contact with us, will let us take her out to dinner sometimes in her new city, when she’s the type that may possibly come home to see her dog on a weekend, and bring her super-sweet roommate with her to eat homemade mac and cheese? It’s all good on the horizon. We’re not losing her. It’s all gain.
So you can imagine how surprised I was to find myself welling up in the grocery store check out line yesterday. As I paid for groceries, all the weird, salty foods that she loves which my late mother also weirdly loved…olives, salami, canned chicken noodle soup, I looked up at the fluorescent lights to stop the tears from flowing. And it’s strange, but I couldn’t really put my finger on exactly why I was weepy. She’s leaving, yes, and it’s the end of an era for our family, true, but I have learned enough in the last couple of years to know that the only thing we can count on is that life changes. Everything passes. It’s how it is meant to be.
So I don’t want to grab my girl by the shoulders and lock her up in her room, but I do want her to know the depth of what these eighteen years have meant to me, and how proud I am, and all the things you say but which words can never quite capture. I want her to know how my heart fills every time I see her interacting with our dog like she’s her baby. I want her to know how the things she’s battled already in her young life have made her a force for empathy, wisdom, and goodness in the world, and how she is so much stronger than me already. I want her to keep showing me dog videos, or crazy political tweets, or lines from classic novels or poems, or scenes from Bojack Horseman, or a new pasta recipe she just made up, every day, forever. But that’s not how it goes.
Within the span of a couple of days, my daughter got new sneakers, new glasses, and highlights in her hair. We joked that she was rebuilding herself from the ground up, and it’s funny, but it’s also true. College is a time for breaking things down and rebuilding them, of seeing life through new lenses, of new colors and possibilities. It’s so good and it can be so hard, too, for them and for us. Sometimes our hearts fill with excitement and pride, and sometimes we look to the light to stop the tears from flowing.
Maura, pride is not the word I’m looking for. There is so much more inside me now. Love, Mom.