Yesterday we drove our youngest daughter, Josie, to Virginia to start college. It was an emotional day for me. I’m not saying only bad emotions were involved. It was just an emotional day.
The good emotions included excitement that she is attending my much-beloved alma mater, Randolph College (formerly and forever known by me as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College—to hell with the fact that it is now co-ed!), relief that she has a great roommate, and happiness that the college seems to be the same great place, full of brilliant professors and caring people, that I remember.
Main Hall, Randolph College
Also, there was gratitude that her sister and brother went with us on the trip and that her other sister and her husband, who couldn’t come because of work, kept in touch by text throughout the day! I think they all wanted to make sure their baby sister was going to be all right, and it touched my heart.
Finally, there was the pleasure of witnessing Josie finding her way in a new environment and seeing that she will be fine without me. Sometimes it helps to see our kids in different settings, just to be reminded of how much they make us proud.
Before you are overwhelmed with my sappiness, let me admit there was also the pure joy of realizing that I no longer have to prepare a single school lunch or attend a single Parents’ Night at our local high school ever again!
Josie (R) and her wonderful friend Nora (L) in Pittsburgh at the Phipps Conservatory
So, that’ was the good stuff. There were also bad emotions, or I guess I should say “difficult” ones, as in the ones that made me want to curl up in the fetal position and sleep for about 48 hours.
First of all, the experience of actually being a parent, bringing my daughter to college, at my very own campus was somewhat surreal, especially considering the fact that all the people who taught me such wonderful topics as “The Poetry of W. H. Auden” or “Social Stratification Systems” or “German History before 1900” (yes, a liberal arts curriculum) are dead. It’s strange enough to walk around a campus and see no students you recognize but it’s past bizarre to see a bunch of young upstarts pretending to be professors, sitting in all my professors’ offices. It was a little like being in a Twilight Zone episode involving, perhaps, time travel and robots.
Secondly, I have to say, it is really, really hard to say goodbye to your youngest child, the last one leaving the nest. It doesn’t matter that your logical brain says, “she’ll be back for fall break,” or “but you have your oldest daughter and her husband back at home with you at the moment, so the house won’t even really be empty for another few months.” None of that apparently weighs in heavily enough to balance out the overwhelming feeling at the pit of your stomach: “My baby is all grown up! How in the world did that happen so soon?”
(There was also, I admit, a self-centered, nagging feeling of fear and depression that, damn, I must be really old if Josie is old enough to go to college, but we’ll ignore that one for now.)
I can sum up the whole experience this way: I am really happy that my girl is off to college, and I am thrilled that she was able to walk off confidently to her new dorm room, with only a couple tears in her eyes, but I am also heavily burdened at the moment with the grief that comes from realizing my youngest child is leaving home, officially, and probably for good. Hold on, you say, she’ll be home for Christmas and spring break and summer. What are you bitching and moaning about? Here’s the reality: once they walk out that door to go to college, they never really come home again, not in the way you want them to. Not in an everyday, being there and belonging there sort of way, where they can take their time to grow up, since you’ve got all the time in the world to go on vacations together, eat food at the same table, plan what color to paint their room. Yes, they come back, but only in a visiting their parents sort of way, where you get a temporary hold on their time, nothing permanent. You may be able to check out that book for a few weeks, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it will ever be part of your library again!
So, this whole “empty nest” thing that I thought would never have reality in my world, is real. Big time. And so I’m dealing with some rough, emotional stuff at the moment. As a result, I may not be in the best shape for a while.
This is, however, only Day One of this new phase. I’m sure I’ll be much better, real soon. Come a week or two, I’ll be able to walk in her room without crying! And, after some more time, I’ll only weep uncontrollably on those days when she (like her sisters and brother) leaves again, after a visit, to go back to school/new home/new job/whatever. In the meantime, I’ll just curl up tonight in her room and bury my face in her pillow for comfort!
Oops, I forgot: she took that with her, too!