I sat quietly in the passenger seat with tears flowing from my eyes as my husband drove us towards the airport in the XL Chevy Tahoe we had rented for the past three days. My heart was both bursting with happiness and breaking with loneliness as I tried to recall how I felt on this very day 30 years ago when I was the one settling into my dorm room and my parents were the ones leaving me behind.
I contemplated my daughter’s next few hours, days and months and imagined how life would be for my sheltered, over-parented, yet self-confident 18-year-old college girl. I then contemplated my own next few hours, days and months and imagined how my life would be without her living under my roof.
My college daughter communicates with me daily.
My reverie was shattered by the vibration of my phone, the distinct buzz pattern designated for the daughter I had just dropped off.
Text: “OMG mom. The brand new bronzer we bought just fell and broke all over the floor. What should I do?”
And just as I wiped a tear and thought about how to clean up bronzer without making an even bigger mess, another text came through.
Text: “And OMG what shoes should I wear when I go to walk my class schedule? Do you think sneakers or something cuter? I’ll send pix and you tell me.”
I sighed and looked at my husband, who was also lost in thought. “Honey,” I reported with a snarky smile, “I’m not sure Jamie is going to make it here without me. You might need to drop me back off at the dorm.”
He rolled his eyes and we continued along our way. We boarded the plane, arrived back at our now quieter house and began life as I figured it would be…with one less mouth to feed, one less carpool to drive, one less opinion about whether we should eat Sunday night dinner at the diner, Anthony’s Pizza or House of Hunan.
Strangely enough, however, I began to feel as if I was as if I was living in the dorm myself. My daughter texted me the names of every other girl living on her floor and where they were from. She FaceTimed me to show me which pizza toppings her dorm dining room had available and then informed me how many slices and crusts she ate for dinner.
She let me know which shirt she decided to wear for her first “night out” (selfie included) and how many times her left bra strap slid down her shoulder. I fell asleep mid-text conversation (that’s what turning fifty will do to a mom) and woke up to eleven messages recounting the highlights of her night.
And so it went.
As the days went on, I wondered if our conversations would dwindle to resemble more closely the communication I had with my own parents while I was away in college. My dear parents knew the name of my dorm (because they dropped me off there). They knew the names of my roommates (because they met them when they dropped me off there). They knew the names of the classes I was taking (because they helped pay my tuition). They knew what color my comforter was (because they helped me pack it in a Hefty bag).
I called them precisely once a week on Sunday afternoons from the rotary phone hanging on my dorm room wall to share with them any important details from the week. Our calls lasted approximately 8-10 minutes and included just enough information about how I was doing in my classes and how I was sleeping at night. The only time I strayed from that schedule was when I found myself low on money… and then I called them as needed…from a payphone…collect. And that was it.
I, on the other hand, now know how my daughter’s coffee tastes when she gets it at Starbucks versus how it tastes when she picks it up at Lava Java. I know when the toilet in her dorm is clogged and exactly how that smells, and I know when she wakes up with a stuffy nose or period cramps. I know which sweatshirt she’s wearing and why she chose it and whom she’s meeting for lunch and what she’s planning to order and how many hours she spent studying for her Biology 101 exam.
I know about the zit that showed up on her chin out of nowhere (and am proud to have given her the right advice as to how to make it go away in just one day). I’m in the loop on which fraternity party she and her friends have chosen for their pre-football tailgate and which high school friends are coming home on which day for Thanksgiving break. I know the kind of gum she bought at CVS and how long it takes for it to lose its flavor. And I know the name of the kid she wants to invite to her sorority date party.
And I know all of that before noon on any given day.
I know more about her life now than I did when she was living in my house. Is that weird? Don’t answer that. Is this healthy? Don’t answer that either.
I can’t really decide if the way my daughter and I are doing this whole “college mother-daughter thing” is bad or good, okay or not okay. I don’t know if I’m hindering her growth and development of independence or if I’m simply connecting the way that parents do in 2019. I don’t even know if I need an answer.
I DO know that it feels good to stay connected. I DO know that I can’t fall asleep unless I’ve texted her “good night” because…I don’t know why. I DO know that I appreciate that she still comes to me with questions – mundane and important, big and small – because selfishly it makes me feel needed and wanted. Is that so bad?
I ALSO know that with or without me, she is still doing “it all” on her own. She’s figured out how much she needs to study and where on campus she studies best. She’s met with her professors when she has had questions and she’s figured that all out on her own.
She’s made true friends that make her feel good and happy and she’s done that on her own. She’s written papers and essays and taken two-hour exams and she’s done all of that without my guidance. She found the gym on campus and has carved out time in her schedule to run three miles there every day…on her own.
I may be hyper-connected and uber-involved and she may come to me with LOTS of questions and for LOTS of advice…but guess what…she’s there without me and surviving and even thriving…on her own. Wish I could write more but I’ve missed a whole slew of texts while finishing this article.
Turns out she wants to tell me all about the first college A+ that she got…on her own!
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.
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