My Daughter is Home and That’s Not Where She’s Supposed to Be

The wind was chill through the kitchen windows. I was cold but, didn’t move to close them. “Soon it will be too cold to have these open,” I said to myself, and I wanted the fresh air for as long as possible. 

Suddenly, standing there contemplating the gray October morning it was as if time had spun, warped, and rewound. I was dizzy, remembering a nearly identical day in early April when I’d opened the kitchen windows in spite of the chill breeze, because, after the endless March of quarantine, I craved the fresh air so desperately. 

My daughter’s senior year is beginning just like her junior year ended: in her childhood bedroom. (Twenty20 @chantylove)

Spring took so long to arrive

Was that really six months ago? Spring had taken so long to come. And when it finally arrived and stepped aside for  the summer we craved, we had shaken off our quarantine shackles as best we could, stepping out into the dazzling New England sun and tasting freedom on porches, patios, lakes and oceans. 

We’d survived lock down, a shortened college semester, remote learning, cancelled summer gigs, new (remote) summer gigs, partial unemployment, mastering Zoom and managing the uncertainty and sadness that danced at the edges of every day.

But summer had set us free—or as free as one can be mid-pandemic. We had played trivia on our deck, tried fancy cocktails, read books, watched movies and reveled in togetherness with the comforting belief that come fall we could and would return to ‘the way things are supposed to be.’

My daughter is spending the fall of her senior year at home

But as summer’s glory faded to the hot dry days of August, the news came that our daughter’s college would continue to be fully remote this semester – and her senior year would begin as her junior year had ended – in her childhood bedroom. What had seemed temporary, somewhat exciting, and even charming in the spring, now seemed grim and more than a bit sad.

For a theater major, remote learning was an especially cruel blow – for there would be no senior leading roles, no in-person acting classes, no culmination of years of hard work in acting studios and rehearsal spaces. For a deeply academic honors student (the flip side of her wonderful, complicated student identity), there would be no honor society introduction and no in-person colloquiums with special lecturers.

The hurdle of writing a thesis would happen without the reassuring resources of advisors and the school library. 

And of course, there was the loss of that special college community of friends that nurtured her, encouraged her, and made her whole. How important they are, those friends we all make at 18 and spend four joyous years growing, living, crying, laughing, and learning with, ultimately emerging as terribly worldly 22-year-olds on graduation day with the exciting and terrifying knowledge that life holds more questions than answers. 

Time has moved on and this is just how it still is

That blow of the closed campus is now two months old, the leaves have turned, many have fallen. We can’t sit on our deck without getting pummeled by falling acorns. Pumpkins and mums have replaced the bright flowers of summer on our steps. My daughter is already studying for midterms. 

My basement home office houses both a fan and a space heater to handle our fickle New England weather, the shorts and t-shirt I wore on my daily walks have been replaced by yoga pants and a sweatshirt pulled from a summer-long hiatus, and the skies darken earlier and earlier each day.

That moment at the kitchen window, it felt as though we had flipped the calendar all the way back to March, back to the beginning of it all. Is this how it will always be? I sighed and closed the window.    

My family is nothing but adaptable. And as we did on that long-ago March day when we packed up her dorm room and brought her home, we have adapted to our empty nest being filled again and to another semester of college happening at home. 

There are days filled with joyous surprises—hearing her recite a new monologue for a senior-level acting class, or catching snippets of a meeting with friends coming from her room, when she invites me into her world or seeks out my counsel and advice, when we laugh over dinner or a movie – sharing time in a way we haven’t had the luxury of doing in years.

There are days when nothing feels right

And then there are days when nothing feels right, when we snap at each other, get in each other’s way, misread each other, stomp about in frustration, when the humdrum routine of our house, indeed my very presence is a reminder of all that she has lost and continues to lose with each passing day.  

This isn’t where she’s supposed to be. She’s supposed to be in an apartment making mac ‘n cheese with her roommates, arguing over whose turn it is to do the dishes, and drinking more coffee (and other beverages) than she should. She’s supposed to be enjoying the life of a new 21-year-old secure in her role as top dog on campus with the world at her feet. 

She’s supposed to be holed up in the library stacks working on her thesis or rehearsing a show late into the night and texting me to let me know she’s walking home and had a great day.  

This isn’t where she’s supposed to be. That thought hangs unspoken at the edge of every day, as I try to find ways of making it better—do I pretend she’s not here or try to draw her in?  Plan family activities or leave her to her own devices? Occasionally I get it almost right. More often than I want to admit, I get it staggeringly wrong. And sometimes I land in that sweet spot where everything comes together, and our little family is perfectly content to be as we are.  

This is how it still is. We thought it was temporary, but this is how it still is. We’ve stopped trying to predict an ‘after’ or a “what happens next.” We’ve settled into the now. To embracing each passing season as best we can. To marking time from the kitchen windows. And for now, that will have to do. 

This is how it still is. And for now, that’s OK.  

You Might Also Want to Read:

Your College Student is Home: Six Things to Help You Get Through

About Katie Collins

Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 30 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college senior.

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