You know, life can be cruel. You spend the last 19 years giving birth to a child, providing endless feedings and then later countless back scratches and lullabies, vaccinations, happy meals, gymnastic, piano, dance and whatever else lessons, because naturally every mom thinks they have a prodigy on their hands. You cheer at every sports game, sit up all night when your child is ill because the flu only strikes long after everyone is asleep. You break the bank and go on family vacations, even though years later your child will swear you never took them anywhere. You throw annual birthday parties they won’t recall either. Just when you have forgotten what life was like before children, it happens. They go and do something stupid. And your life changes.
Your child wants to go to college.
And not just any college, but one away from home. In other words, your child is leaving.
Who makes up these rules?
My middle child is leaving this week. She drank the Kool-Aid and believes that going to college is something she really needs to do to become a teacher. Go figure. Unfortunately, I may have had something to do with this. Yes, growing up, we encouraged her to go to college. We talked about it ad nauseum in our house since she was tiny. We discussed the benefits and the fun experiences, blah, blah, blah. But now, as she eyes the luggage in the garage, I want to tell her that I lied. I want to tell her that it was all a big joke.
I have tried to talk her out of leaving. I explained to her that college, dorm life, meeting new life-long friends, perhaps finding her future spouse, is really overrated. But she doesn’t believe me. She seems to delight in reminding me the many times I have said my college years were some of the best in my life. She makes known that I am still the best of friends with my college roommates and that I can laugh like nobody’s business when we all get together. For a kid that can’t remember when it’s her week to do dishes, she recalls this?
Regardless of what I say, she is leaving. Her room is almost bare. Luggage is packed and bags from Bed, Bath & Beyond clutter our hallway. Books are purchased and she has mapped out her daily schedule while studying the itineraries of all her classes. For some reason I don’t think I am going to change her mind. So with this being said, I just want to tell my daughter, who is infamous in our family for always wanting the last word, that right now, it’s my turn. I’m not going to give her any final advice. She doesn’t need it. Instead, I just want to say what this amazing child has taught me these past 19 years.
My daughter taught me that you can love your next child as much as you love your first. That your heart can easily multiply and it happens instantaneously. When you didn’t think you could love anymore, you suddenly could.
My daughter taught me that small does not mean fragile. She was born a little over 6 lbs and only 19 inches long, but she was and is one of the toughest people I know. Her determination and strength exceeds her tiny stature. She has shown that indeed, small things do come in large, beautifully decorated packages.
My daughter taught me that even if you have a strong personality, feelings are real. For many, sensitivity, compassion and kindness are often hidden underneath a tough exterior, only to sneak out when needed the most.
My daughter taught me patience. She never hesitated as a young child to say to anyone other than her father and I, “You are not the boss of me,” nor in her high school years did she think twice about challenging you on the absurdity of curfews. Yet she clearly respected our rules and confirmed to me that children not only need direction, deep down, they yearn for it.
My daughter taught me that when you fall, you get back up. This child was the one that was clumsy. She was the one that would drop the full glass of milk at the dinner table, or stumble when there was absolutely nothing in front of her. If you heard a loud noise upstairs, everyone downstairs would say in unison, “That’s Riley.” But she always laughed and brushed herself off as she struggled to her feet. She never sat on the ground and felt sorry for herself nor did she request any help. The words that most often came out of her mouth included, “I can do it myself.”
Finally, my daughter taught me that it doesn’t get easier to say goodbye. In fact, in some ways, it gets harder. As the nest slowly empties and the rooms grow more silent, the next stage of a parent’s life suddenly needs to be confronted. Yes, I had 19 years to prepare for this moment, but it just begs the question, are you ever really ready when your child leaves? While grateful she has this opportunity and that her hard word has paid off, that final hug and kiss are painful. So no, it doesn’t get easier. It is now confirmed that goodbyes are hard.
My daughter taught me one last thing. Be prepared for the unexpected. After returning from dropping our child off at college, I walked into my home to confront the quiet, when I saw that she had left us a note. To say it was beautiful is putting it mildly. To say we read it in stunned silence is an understatement. For this child, who could hardly wait to leave, who started packing last January, she taught me that home will never be far from her thoughts.