Four years ago my older daughter was graduating high school, getting ready to move 300 miles away to college, and I was an emotional wreck. Sure, on the outside I was cool and collected — in my memory at least — but on the inside I was fighting the battle between my pride and excitement for her and my own heartache that the time had actually come for her to spread her wings and take that terrifying leap from the nest.
I could not imagine how our close-knit family would survive without one of its necessary pieces. I would get nauseous thinking about her empty bed, her empty stool at the kitchen counter (where we eat since we lost the kitchen table under the stacks of mail), the absence of her voice singing in the shower, and worst of all, how her little sister would bear having her best friend and closest confidant move away.
But I survived. We all did. I won’t lie; it was a bit rough, especially the first year. My heart hurt without her around. But surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as traumatic as I’d imagined (if you don’t count that first drop-off goodbye, of course, which was beyond excruciating for everyone, especially the little sister). And I’ll admit, her empty room saved me from assault charges more than a few times when my husband’s snoring got out of control in the middle of the night.
Thanks in big part to technology, we all found a way to accept and navigate our new situation successfully. We got used to the goodbyes, looked forward to the hellos, and even endured her being on the other side of the world for almost five months while she studied abroad in Australia. Over the past four years we’ve all adjusted pretty damn well to our new normal … and now she’s graduating and it’s about to be turned on its end once again.
Because she’s moving back home. Am I ecstatic? Obviously. I cannot wait to hear her sing in the shower again on a regular basis; have her stool at the kitchen counter occupied; go on Target runs together; and best of all, listen to her and her little sister gossip and laugh in real life instead of through screens for the next six months.
I’m thrilled for her that she landed an internship — using her shiny new Zoology degree, no less — working with some of her very favorite animals at a top-rated zoo only 30 minutes from home. My heart is as full as my nest is about to be.
But I’ll admit, I’m also a little bit worried.
Over the past four years I’ve watched my daughter grow into someone I wouldn’t have recognized when I originally dropped her off. I didn’t realize back then all the things college would give her other than an understanding of bimolecular reactions and angular momentum (thanks, Google). But it has. It’s given her independence, self-confidence, courage, determination, resourcefulness, and pluck (thanks, Thesaurus.com).
The girl who would rather eat her soup with a fork than ask a waiter to bring her a spoon four years ago has been replaced with a young woman who will battle with the college administration for entrance to a class, travel halfway across the world, and cage dive with great white sharks — all by herself.
And I’ll be honest, living full-time with this new version of her scares me a little bit. Not only is she more mature, but living on her own — without house rules — has also given her freedom and independence that I’m not sure my drinking glass collection is big enough for.
Where is the line between adult daughter and autonomous roommate drawn? Is it the same line? Should there even be a line? And if so, can I draw it with the pile of wet towels I already know will be on the floor?
Thankfully, my daughter has lived with roommates over the past few years that have been even less concerned with tidiness than she is. She’s gotten a taste of what it’s like to be “the mom.” She’s had to deal with sinks full of dirty dishes that aren’t hers and people using her stuff without asking (and believe me, I’ve laughed my ass off each time she’s called to complain).
However, she’s also had the freedom to live like that too, which, trust me, she has. She may be able to fight her own battles and swim with sharks, but the girl’s still blind to her own messy bedroom. So it’s time once again to create a new normal. In the coming weeks I’m quite sure that giving up some of the liberties she’s grown accustomed to will be challenging for her, but at the same time, living back under the family roof means a new set of expectations — not just for her, but for everyone.
While she might have some adjustments to make (see: wet towels on the floor), it will be important for us to be sensitive to her re-entry as well. Sure, my nest will be happily full, but I’m mindful of the fact that it might need a bit of a remodel.
And by the way, I’m putting a new snoring room at the top of the list.