Let’s just say she spent the summer soiling the nest really well. She could win an award for making absolutely sure we counted down the days, and the seconds, until it would be time for her to leave. She made it easy for me not to spend weeks or months crying in anticipation of her departure. (I got my crying in junior year, don’t worry!)
I spent the summer getting every possible item she would need for her dorm, packed the car like a boss, and made sure everyone in the family had college logo gear. Checked the parent websites about freshman year, read tons of articles about kids heading to college, made sure all family members would have a chance to hug and kiss her goodbye over a delicious, and way too expensive, steak dinner. Check!
The big day was finally here. (Let’s not talk about the speeding ticket I got on the way up to school, okay?.) We arrived early, lots of student volunteers were on hand to help unload the car, and we got to park close to the dorm. Check! What could go wrong?
Well, lots. From that point on, move-in day, which really became move-in hour, was not exactly what I expected. There was lots of 18-year-old yelling. “Put my bed over there! Move that for me! I can’t stand so many people in my room!” So, about forty-five minutes after we arrived, after having driven many, many hours to get there, we kissed her goodbye and wished her a great beginning of school-then drove home shaking our heads and secretly wishing her roommate lots o’ luck!
Classes begin. The first texts we got from her were great-she made a bunch of friends, loves her roommate, and breathes in fresh mountain air every morning in her new college town. Food’s great, bed’s comfy, life is good. Then it turns out her roommate goes home every weekend to see her boyfriend and after a few weeks, her roommate withdrew from school. I tentatively asked my daughter if she was also thinking of withdrawing, for no good reason but just in case there was something that she wasn’t telling us. “No way,” she says, “I love it here.”
“Oh and mom, I just realized that my math class is also on Fridays, so I’m going to talk to the professor and make sure I go both days each week from now on…whoops,” she says.
You see it coming, right?
Fall break comes, she hitches a ride home with a friend and catches up with buddies from high school. As the long weekend marches on, she says she can’t wait to get back home – to her dorm, that is. She talks about studying for upcoming tests and labs and says she thinks she’s doing OK. Still loving college life. “Don’t worry mom,” she says, “I passed a one-credit class by the skin of my teeth but failed the final so I have to take it again. But don’t worry mom, I’ll pass this time,” she says. “Lots of people failed,” she says.
I didn’t see it coming…I mean, she made it through the first two weeks and wasn’t overly homesick, her roommate left, she hung out with us on Parents’ Weekend, came home happy for fall break, and was going strong – we should be good to go! Come on! She’ll just take that math class again and it will all work out.
“I got a flat tire but we fixed it mom,” she says. “I’m adulting,” she says. “I love college! I even did my laundry! I think I have strep but I’ll go to the health center-don’t worry mom,” she says, I got this. She starts to show interest in joining a sorority but doesn’t pursue it, but loses touch with the friends she made who ended up pledging.” Thanks for the care package mom,” she says, “I love it! Everything’s great,” she says.
She moves in with a wonderful new roommate, joins study groups and meets with her advisor to pick classes for next semester. Says she’s looking forward to one of the lab courses in particular and is hanging out with some genuinely nice, new friends, but has to withdraw from one class she is in jeopardy of failing. “Don’t worry mom,” she says, “I can take it over the summer near home. A lot of people are doing that,” she says. Check out our awesome Halloween costumes, she texts.
Then, “Mom, I want to come home this weekend. I’m really stressed. I think I’m failing 3 classes. I didn’t realize there were quizzes online I had to take. My science professor makes no sense and no one understands him. I study and it doesn’t help. I feel like crying my eyes out, I’m so anxious.”
What do I do, she asks? “I love you.” I say. “You’ll figure it out.” I say. “It’ll be Ok.” I say.
Oh shoot, I think.
Home she comes, driving a lot of hours and miles and over bridges.
“I have to drop out, withdraw, quit,” she screams. “I’m mad at myself, I’m a failure, I disappointed everyone,” she cries.
“I don’t know what to do,” she cries. She comes up for air…”It’s fine to go to plan B,” I say.
“That’s why there are 26 letters in the alphabet,” I say (I heard that somewhere and it seemed to fit).
“We are always proud of you,” I say.
“You are making a good decision,” I say.
What happens now, I think. This wasn’t the plan, I think. She was supposed to stay at this school and everything was supposed to just work out. I need air, I think. And wine.
“I’ll apply to the local college and go there next semester,” she says. “I’ll move back in with you so I won’t have to be stressed about getting food before the dining hall closes. I’ll study and not party so much. I’ll get a good night’s sleep every night and get a 4.0,” she says.
“I know you’ll be fine, I say. Fill out your application,” I say. “All I want is for you to do your best and be happy,” I say.
“And pass,” I add, but I don’t know if she heard me.
But oh my gosh, I don’t think I can live with her under my roof again, I think. I need more air, I think. And more wine.
“Mom, lots of my high school friends came back home and I’ll get to see them. I’ll get a job nearby. I won’t drive you crazy. I love you, mom, and thanks for being so supportive. I’m not the same person who lived here in the summer,” she says. “It was weird that the day I got dropped off at school I became a semi-adult, so now you’ll have a semi-adult living with you,” she says. “Great,” I say. “Finish the semester as best as you can, and we’ll take it from there,” I say.
“Don’t worry” I say.
“I love you,” I say.
Ok, I think. We can do this, I think. Wish me lots o’ luck. And send wine.
Randee Bonagura is an elementary school administrator by day, mom and stepmom of 4 teenage girls by night. She reads, writes, crafts and plays clarinet in a local ensemble, and adopts way too many rescue kittens in her spare time. She lives in New York with her husband, and can host a care package party like nobody’s business.