“I’m ready to be there, just not ready to leave here,” my daughter announced, exactly two weeks before she’d leave for college.
Amazed that she could be so insightful at describing her conflicting feelings, I realized that one sentence nailed my own ambivalence.
She’s my youngest, so her departure marked an end to the 24/7 joys and demands of hands-on mothering.
My kids were athletes and while I enjoyed sitting on the sidelines as a soccer/tennis/swim mom, seeing bathing suits constantly dripping in the shower, trying to get mud stains out of white soccer socks, attending endless booster meetings and driving to emergency rooms for stitches and orthopedic surgeons for broken bones was beginning to lose its charm.
Yet hearing the words I’m ready to be there, just not ready to leave here, stopped me cold.
The first time I had to get a kid ready for dorm life, I tried to shop early.
“What? You’re in a hurry for me to leave?” my son huffed when I suggested we go shopping in June. He whined. He complained. And, he won. It ended up being a mad dash to a store shortly before he left.
This time, I vowed to be more organized. I didn’t realize I’d also be more emotional.
Like a robot I drove to IKEA for bedding, the bank for a debit card, Target for toiletries and the doctor for a meningitis vaccine. I remained calm with every outing, except at night when I’d cry into my pillow.
When I said good-bye to her older brother, tears gushed down my face. “Oh mom, don’t cry,” he muttered. We exchanged an awkward embrace. Period. No great, motherly advice.
This time, I wanted to leave my child with a few wise words that would linger in her mind, words that would build her up when she was down, words that would convey how much she means to me long after I left her dorm.
Once everything was out of the car and into her dorm room, we hugged and all I could think of was, “have fun, don’t do anything stupid.”
On the three-hour drive from her dorm to my newly quiet home, I cursed myself. Have fun, don’t do anything stupid. Is that the best I got?
I should have come up with a better parting line.
That night, I thought about the decades that followed my own high school graduation.
There were plenty of happy moments.
I snorkeled in the Caribbean. Skied down black diamond slopes. Slept in a castle. Got married. Birthed two healthy babies. Marveled at Niagara Falls. Rode roller coasters. Rode horses. Hiked next to waterfalls. Wandered through Europe. Watched countless sunsets.
And, lots of soul-crushing moments.
I skied off a cliff and destroyed my knee, endured daily screams from an alcoholic boss, lost my dad to cancer and was downsized from my job. Then, in my forties, I got divorced.
Throw in two car accidents, the time a guy pulled a knife on me and the day a German Sheppard attacked and killed my little Shih Tzu and it’s obvious my life wasn’t always covered in fairy dust.
Yet, my heart is filled with absolutely no regrets.
As a college freshman, I had no idea my life would have so many twists and turns. I didn’t know my thoughts, words and actions have the power to enhance a good experience and prevent a bad situation from escalating into a horrific nightmare. It took me years to understand that a mind cannot simultaneously hold worry and faith.
I believe actions are more powerful than words, so hanging out with me for the first 18 years of their lives hopefully taught my kids a few things via osmosis.
The second week into being an empty nester, I entered a yoga studio. Once upon a time, I practiced yoga faithfully. That ended when raising teenagers placed too many demands on my time.
I was out of shape, yet it felt good to slowly move through the sun salutations. As the class progressed, I felt stronger and just a tad overconfident.
“You can stay in bridge pose, with your back firmly planted on the ground, or if you’re ready, move into the wheel pose,” explained the instructor.
Remembering how awesome it felt to have my head dangling upside down, I rushed into the wheel pose, causing my knee to wince and a pain shoot up my thigh.
I returned to the easier bridge pose.
Maybe have fun, don’t do anything stupid is the only advice that college freshmen need to hear.
Carole Reinert has paid the bills writing everything from dog food commercials, to newspaper and magazine articles, to websites and blogs. A mother of two from Springdale, PA, she also writes personal essays about the time her dog needing Prozac, how hard it is to give up coffee and other life events. You can learn more about her by visiting her website.