My son informed me the other day that I haven’t written anything in nearly a year. And not for lack of material. Honestly, some fairly noteworthy things have occurred during that time.
I could have written about when I lopped off part of my thumb with a mandoline slicer. About how I picked up the piece of my thumb that I sliced off, stuck it back in place, wrapped a paper towel around it, and actually debated for a few minutes whether or not I needed medical attention. Turns out I needed several weeks of medical attention. I figure only a true Italian would sacrifice part of a finger so that her family could have perfectly sliced fried eggplant.
I might have written about how right after what is now referred to as “The Mandoline Incident,” I was diagnosed with skin cancer on my head. But I usually write humor and I really couldn’t figure out how to spin that one into something hilarious. I’m totally fine now, by the way. Joke’s on you, squamous cell carcinoma.
Another blog worthy topic I might’ve written about…my oldest child graduated high school. That’s a big event, right? She was accepted to her first choice school, and our families flew up for her graduation and it was fun and fine and I probably shed a few tears during the ceremony, I honestly don’t remember.
And then this summer she worked to save money and we talked about the things she would need for school. We bought new bedding for her dorm. And it was exciting and I was fine. We bought storage drawers and a mini fridge. And I was fine. We ordered her textbooks online a few days ago and shipped them to her dorm address. And still I was fine.
What it Felt Like Saying Goodbye to My Daughter at College
And then yesterday we packed everything into the car, drove the car onto the ferry and set off for her college town. We moved her into a clean, bright, nearly brand new dorm building, we had a lovely dinner with her roommate and her super nice family, and it all should have been fine.
But when I hugged my daughter good-bye and watched her walk down the city street, away from us, her family, her protectors, it was like watching her walk straight out of her childhood. And into the unknown. And then I was not fine. So now, I’ll write.
It’s like I’ve been hit with the emotional equivalent of a hurricane. I mean, I figured I’d be sad when she left. You can’t spend every single day of 18 years with someone and then not miss them when they move away. Even if your kid is a pain in the ass. Which mine isn’t, by the way, which probably makes it harder.
I knew I would worry and second guess myself
And I knew I would feel worry. Because up until now I knew pretty much where my child was at all times. I knew what time she went to bed, what time she woke up, and what she ate for breakfast. Now, overnight, she’s living in a big city and I don’t know if she got enough sleep or what she’s wearing or if she remembered to bring a jacket. The only word I can think of to describe all of this not-knowing is…unsettling.
Along with the worry, strangely, is guilt. Second-guessing everything I ever did as a parent. Did I adequately prepare her for the “real” world? Did I scare her too much or not enough? Will she really keep the pepper spray in her backpack? Will she use it if she has to? Why didn’t I make her take a self-defense class? Does she know how to mail a package? Did I ever tell her the post office closes at 5:30?
Anger. I didn’t expect to feel anger. Yes, I am pissed off at the world right now for not preparing me for this. How many pieces of unsolicited advice do we get in our years of parenting? Thousands? At every other milestone I felt inundated with information and opinions. People talk endlessly about how hard it is having a newborn, the sleepless nights, breastfeeding, co-sleeping. The toddler tantrums. Picky eater preschoolers. The middle school years…hormones, mean girls, bullying. High school…peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, academic stress. Texting and driving. And so on. I mean, you can’t get people to shut up about that stuff.
But when you mention your child is leaving for college, the response has been invariably, “Oh, how exciting!” and that’s pretty much it. Well, now that it’s happened I’m like, “Wait a minute! Why did NOBODY tell me, I mean REALLY tell me, that, THIS, THIS is the milestone that is the absolute hardest parenting time of all?” Not one single person said, “Oh, your child is leaving for college? I’m so sorry, that totally sucks for you.”
I am excited for my daughter but my heart is heavy
And of COURSE I am happy for her. And of COURSE I am excited for her. And no, I wouldn’t rather her stay home forever. But none of that mitigates the fact that for me, the mom, it does totally suck right now. So I am telling you now, parents of younger children, because no one actually told me. It sucks. You’re welcome.
People say, “Oh, you’re lucky that she’ll only be an hour away,” which until yesterday, actually gave me comfort. But I quickly realized that it doesn’t matter much if she’s not in her bedroom and she’s an hour away versus she’s not in her bedroom and she’s five hours away. Either way, she’s not in her bedroom. Either way, the house is too quiet.
I keep having this vision in my head of my little girl walking away, towards her building, and in this vision I’m fighting back tears and yelling, “WAIT! Turn around! Please, I’m not done yet. I need more time…just a little more time!”
But my time is up and all I can do is hope that I used it well.
And though my heart is heavy and my emotions are muddled, my head is clear, and I do know the truth of the matter. I may need just a little more time…but she doesn’t. She’s strong and she’s smart and she’s beautiful and she’s ready. She’s all yours, world. Please treat her kindly.
Now, available, All About Mom and Me: A Journal for Mothers and Daughters.
Written by Janene Dutt, mom of three, and author of this post, this shared journaling book offers mothers and daughters a way to become closer.
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