I felt the all too familiar pit in my stomach as I saw the face-time call coming from my phone. It was my 18-year-old daughter and, lately, that feeling came on whenever she called. She was calling from college and these calls had not been good. We had moved her in three weeks earlier for her freshman year.
The move-in was difficult, which made for a rocky start. It had been getting progressively worse. She has always suffered from anxiety, so I was fully prepared for homesickness while she was away. This was not homesickness. She did not seem to miss home very much at all. These sad phone calls were about not fitting in or finding her place at all in the school she chose.
I know what you are thinking – she had only been there three weeks. Before that face-time call, I was thinking the same thing. She needed more time, needed to join clubs, needed to make more of an effort. She would find her place. Every time she called me crying, these were the things I said to her.
This time, when I answered the call, it was not the teary eyed, sad girl that I had become used to seeing. She was smiling, her face looked clear, and her eyes were bright. This was the face that I loved and missed. I hadn’t seen it in weeks. Had something good happened? Maybe she made a new friend or joined a club that she was excited about?
That was not it.
What she said to me was, “Mom, I do not belong here. This is not my school. After seeing pictures on Instagram of students at a fashion school in NYC, it became apparent to me – that is where I want to be”.
Honestly, this was not shocking to me. She has always had a passion for fashion. She also loves NYC. We live a short train ride away in suburban NJ so she has always been able to spend time there. She even lived there one summer during High School while taking some fashion classes.
The question is – what was a fashion obsessed, city loving girl doing in a rural, upstate school without a fashion program?
There are many answers to that question, although now they don’t make much sense to me.
One answer was that she was not accepted to her first-choice school which did have a fashion program. The second was that she didn’t love any of the schools with fashion majors where she was accepted. The third, and most important, was that she had not applied to any schools in Manhattan.
Neither of us had considered attending college in NYC “going away to college” because we live only 45 minutes away. Even if she were to live in the dorms, we had not believed that it would feel like a “real college experience”. For that reason, she had not applied to schools in the one city with the best fashion schools in the country.
She ended up at a school in upstate NY which did not offer what she was most interested in. She was hopeful that, in time, she would figure it out.
Right away, she realized that it was not the school for her.
Once she made her decision, we took some time to discuss why we hadn’t thought being in Manhattan was a good idea. The truth is, we both got caught up in what she was “supposed to do”. It was what everyone around her was doing.
You apply to some of the 25 colleges that everyone in your High School applies to. You hopefully get accepted to a few of your top choices and you choose one. Your friends decorate your bedroom in your school colors, you announce your choice on Facebook, you buy the school apparel and then wear it on Decision Day.
You then choose your roommate, spend a ton of money at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and move into your dorm room. You take the obligatory room picture, and then, after a tearful goodbye with your parents, you start your college life. You automatically make 100 new best friends, join a fraternity/sorority, and proceed to have the best four years of your life. Happy ending.
While there are some students whose story goes like this, there are many whose do not.
Everyone is different, and this formula does not work for all students.
My daughter became so caught up in that excitement and she went along for the ride, not realizing that she really wanted something a little different. She wanted to live in New York, and she wanted to be in a school that specialized in Fashion Merchandising.
Now that is what she is planning. She is home and has an internship in the field that she loves, and she has submitted applications for NY fashions schools for spring semester admission.
I am sure that some will judge me for my decision to have her come home and take a “gap semester.” That’s okay. I know that I did what is right for my daughter.
She, and I am sure many others, will take a different path than most. I am proud of her for making a difficult decision and being true to herself. She has a plan and a vision and I believe this will make her happy. Isn’t that what we all want for our children?