There are sunsets, and then there are sunsets.
Sunsets are caused by a scientific phenomenon called “scattering,” in which light waves scatter at a different angle across the atmosphere than they do during the day. I didn’t know that until today, when I looked up ancient myths about sunsets (most have to do with aging gods) and stumbled upon a scientific article about the sky.
But in these first days after dropping my daughter off for her first year of college, scattering – the concept, if not the term – has been on my mind a lot. So have sunsets.
My Daughter Just Left for College
Maybe it’s the Fiddler on the Roof classic . . . “swiftly go the years.” I mean, a classic is a classic for a reason, right?
But I don’t think so. I honestly think my fixation on sunsets is about scattering, about starting over, about closing out a chapter and resting before a new one begins. An hour ago this here lawyer mom couldn’t have told you the first thing about light waves, but now they’re all I can think about.
My daughter has told me – kindly, but in no uncertain terms – that, while she’s not keeping me in the dark, she’s not willing to engage regularly in the “what did you eat for lunch” conversation, either. She’s all about the sunrise, the possibilities of a new day. And of course, that makes me wonder whether my life as a mom is now all about the sunset, the memories, the putting to bed of my very particular world of parenting – the world I’ve inhabited for almost half of my life.
It’s a tricky place to be, for a mom. We want to encourage our kids to scatter to the winds, find a new home on a picture-perfect college campus, make new friends, wear flip flops in the shower, wander out for hot cookies at 1:00 a.m., because that’s how college students get the brightest hues, the warm oranges and reds. It’s what makes our kids stop and exclaim about all the color in the world. And everyone else seems to think that’s so cool.
My friends, my parents, my husband keep telling me, “You should be so proud. She’s worked so hard, and you’ve raised her right, and she’s ready for this. She’s at an amazing college. She’s going to shine like the sun.”
But I – and moms like me, because there must be a lot of us, right? – also want the bright lights of day, to know what our little ones young adult children are up to, during all their waking hours (and, I’ll admit it, some of their dreaming ones, too). We want the first day of school picture that we took, not some random campus photographer. We want to pack a lunch and go over class schedules and help find missing calculators.
As I’ve been writing today, I’ve jumped at the sound of my daughter’s personalized text signal, an auto horn. I had texted her an hour ago, asking if it was a good time for me to call. She just now replied. Nope, she told me. She’d gone to yoga, and then hit the dining hall before breakfast ended, and now she was showering and heading out to “shop” for classes. Maybe tonight.
Here’s the thing. Yes, it’s beyond cool that my kid’s college’s course catalog is umpteen pages long and that she can study any one of a dozen African languages and meet kids from places like Moldova and Lebanon and Taiwan, but last night, all I could think was that it was Tuesday, and Tuesday is taco night, and I wasn’t making tofu tacos because she wasn’t here to eat them, and I should have been glad because I hate making slimy tofu, but I was actually weeping over my salsa.
My self-identified Quaker, vegetarian, yoga-practicing, daughter is saluting the sun.
I’m saluting the sunset.
Here goes nothing.
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Lisa Tucker is a law professor at the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two stepdaughters, and two small dogs. She is also mom to two daughters who are off at college. In her free time, she enjoys listening to Broadway show tunes, reading, cooking Italian food, and practicing agility with her pug.