A little over a year ago we were driving our first born to college, to her new home in Washington, D.C. It seems so weird to say that, “new home”. It was an emotional ride, literally and figuratively.
A lot has changed in a year. I’ve learned a lot about myself, about my college-adult-daughter-kid, about my family. To say that I’m not as emotional- on the surface- this second time around is a statement that barely wrestles with the truth, with the heart of the whole thing.
The most obvious fact is that this summer we’ve had an extra week with her. Let me take you back… one year and two weeks ago…
I had known my oldest daughter’s senior year would be emotional, for all of us: the last play, the last concert, the last day of school. But even through my mom-tears on all those days, even on graduation day, I could still say to myself, at least I still have 6 months, or 3 months. I still have some time.
Nothing could prepare me for the last two weeks that she was home. That’s when it became so painfully obvious, there’s no more time left. The last two weeks were filled with One Last Trip to the beach, the favorite restaurant, One Last Get Together with this group of friends, One Last Visit to see that friend. They were filled with a flurry of anxiety-induced errands: I forgot to do this, I forgot to get that, I might need this… what if I need that? There was an undercurrent of finality to everything we did.
I was just trying to hold everything in, and hold everything together; my emotions, some sort of routine to show that our family was not coming apart from the inside out, even though it sure felt like it. That’s my job- keep things and people together. If I couldn’t do that, what was I even doing?
In addition to all of the chaos and emotion, her 18th birthday was about 36 hours before we had to bring her to college. I was shopping for special gifts, for a special birthday dinner, I was prepping for a large birthday/farewell party she wanted to have with friends, helping her pack. It was such an exciting milestone for her, but it felt like the end of something for me, for our family.
It was so hard to process all the items on my to-do list along with these waves of feelings. There were a lot of ugly cries in private, that my family somehow still knew about.
This year, there’s an extra week between her 19th birthday and her move-in day; it seems like so much more than a week. Not in hours or days, but in moments and deep breaths. The days are fully planned with outings, errands, and more than a few “lasts,” but I can feel the change of pace in my heart and in my head. We can enjoy the leftovers from her birthday dinner. We can say we’re going to plan a coffee/writing date, even if we can’t make it happen. There’s the definite possibility that we could make it happen, and that makes all the difference.
The days will fly by and we’ll be packing up the car before we know it. I will still get emotional, I will still cry as we pull out of the driveway. I will cry when we say what I think will be our last goodbye before I get to wrap my arms around her again, even if it’s only two months from now.
Last September, every time I would walk by her empty room I would sigh. I wondered how we would all deal with the house being so much emptier with one kid gone. But, ob-la-di ob-la-da, life goes on, and we were soon back to our school routines, juggling activities, sports and family time. Having two kids at home takes the sting out of the goodbyes, just a little. Don’t ask me how I’m going to deal with a totally empty nest in seven years. I. Can’t. Even.
They say that the only constant in life is change. From the moment our kids are born, they are changing. We change with them, for them. We might think we are the same parent we were 16 or 18 years ago, but we’re really not.
Moms are both the softest and toughest people I know. A photo, a commercial, a song, the smell of someone else’s baby’s head, for crying out loud, can send us off crying for a half hour. At other times we can hold a towel to our daughter’s concussed and bleeding head, or lead 6 young girls out of Boston after the Marathon Bombing without ever breaking a sweat.
I knew in my heart that when I said goodbye to my college freshman, it wasn’t forever. I’d even see her in a couple of months. But it felt like forever, and there’s no talking your heart out of that feeling.
This year I know better. Going through this only once before doesn’t make me an expert, but it adds a more polished layer to our “new normal.” All of us moms seem to cope better with a little perspective.
No one said obtaining that perspective would be easy.