She decided. It’s posted on Instagram, so it’s official. This weekend, my daughter made the decision about which college she will attend in the fall and clicked “accept.” I should be elated, filled with gratitude and relief, that this day has finally arrived. But somehow rather than celebrating, I feel like crying.
She will be leaving home in the Fall, going to live and learn in another city. I knew that was coming, but somehow it’s still a shock.
We’ve spent the last two years of high school looking forward to this day. Actually, in today’s high pressure high school environment, it’s been more like four years–preparing and studying and learning not only for our daughter, but for us as well. High school success, as measured by college acceptance, is no longer a one-person job. She’s had to push herself in her academics, extracurricular activities, and community service, all the while maintaining the sheer determination to keep going. While she’s directed her energy into achieving all of that, we’ve helped her take on the task of researching colleges and evaluating programs and financial aid.
I must admit I’ve enjoyed the work of the college selection process far more than I expected, in spite of the stress involved. I’ve found it fascinating to study the ideas and philosophies of different schools in different parts of the country and the way they each work to maintain a distinct student culture. The vast array of amenities and internships and study abroad plans available to students these days make me want to go college again.
And the process has brought us closer together. On weekends we’ve spent hours huddled around the computer screen and at the kitchen table, talking endlessly about which schools offer which programs, comparing college campuses, and debating the pros and cons of different majors and fields of study.
We’ve traveled to visit and tour campuses and had lots of time together to talk about it all. Like all mothers and daughters, we’ve had our moments of stress, like the time we almost missed the plane due to delays at security and literally had to run for it or when we got snowed in by a blizzard on the East Coast last spring break and spent 24 hours in the hotel. But the opportunity to be together and find humor in the intensity of it all has given us time to really talk, unconstrained by homework and daily responsibilities.
Through our discussions, I’ve learned so much about my daughter—who she is and who she wants to be, how she views the world and how she hopes to change it through her actions. In fact, that may be precisely why I want to cry.
She is leaving just as I’ve finally gotten to know her.
I’ve always loved her, but getting to know her as a young adult has been much more fun than I ever imagined. When she goes off to school next September, I will miss her terribly—her sense of humor, her optimism, her thoughtfulness as she asks about my day, whether she actually wants to know about it or not.
I will still be here, doing the things I normally do. I’ve been a part of so many of her experiences up until now, sometimes directly involved, although lately more and more as a bystander. The gradual beginnings of separation should have prepared me for her to go away, but I’m not ready.
I must admit I will not miss the stress of watching her do homework late into the night, both of us tired and cranky with the weight of her workload. But I will miss being her support, offering hot chocolate with mini marshmallows or a hug when the tears come and the going gets tough. I know she will find friends to do that for her, and they will offer her things I can’t—the shared enthusiasm for their experience, their school and its traditions, and the general craziness of being young together.
As the time to leave for college in another city approaches, the excitement of leaving home and learning in a new environment will be hers and hers alone. So I will put on a brave face as I see her off on this new challenge. I will not be that clingy mother, desperate to hold on too tightly. Instead, I will send cheerful texts in response to hers and listen when she wants to talk, finding new ways to support her as we enter into a long distance relationship and she settles in to her own independence.
I look forward to my chance to be an enthusiastic bystander, vicariously experiencing the thrill of being young and enthusiastic about all that life can offer. I will stand back and watch as she becomes the person she is meant to be. I can’t go with her, and even though it makes me want to cry, I know it will be ok.
Catherine Gentry lives in Houston, Texas and has two children in high school and one in college. She retired from practicing law to raise her children and currently works as a writer and writing coach. Her essays have been featured in online publications including Literary Mama, the “Voices” section of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and The Houston Chronicle. Find her on Facebook, Instagram and her blog.