I just realized I have to learn how to say the word bathroom again. For nearly 22 years I’ve been saying potty. “I have to go potty,” or “Do you have to go potty,” or the one every mom knows, “Yay, you went on the potty.”
I just spent the day at the parents portion of college orientation for my youngest child. My baby, my 18-year-old beautiful daughter. Tonight, she’s spending her first night in a dorm room, while my husband and I watch “Battle of The Network Stars” from 1977 on TV in the hotel room.
I kept telling myself I was ready for her to leave. After 22 years, my oldest, a boy, is 21 and a half and just entered his fourth year of college, I’m done. I get to have my life back again, I get to have new adventures, instead of just being a plain old mom. “And she’s ready,” I kept telling myself. She’s been excited about leaving for college since 7th grade. I kid you not. That’s when my son started looking at colleges. She saw a way out and she couldn’t wait for her turn.
She kept telling me she wouldn’t miss me, the only one she would miss is the dog. A hundred-pound mush that we rescued from the shelter four years ago. She picked him out. In every way, he’s her dog. Every now and then she would cry over not being able to see him every day. But never once did she say she would miss me. On the drive upstate, I told her she could come home any time she wants. She doesn’t have to wait for a holiday. When we passed the Greyhound station on our way into town, I pointed it out and told her it would take her right into NYC. She said she wouldn’t want to come home.
I was sitting on the couch in the hotel room, when she sat by me and asked me a question. I can’t remember what she asked, but at that point she almost crumbled into tears. She held it in, but she rested her head on my chest and we stayed like that for a just few minutes, but in those minutes time stood still. The memories of all the hundreds of times we sat like this came rushing in. After the move from Maryland to NY when she was in first grade, after the first day of middle school, when she didn’t get a job she thought she had in her pocket, and even the times when she was feeling a little lonely and just needed a hug all melted into one. I could feel the stress in her body. How could I let my little girl go? She needs me, I need her to need me.
We got to campus. I went into her temporary dorm room with her. It was sticky hot, the mattress was rubber, the sheets were scratchy. It was depressing. I helped her make the bed and set up a fan. We left the room. She closed the door and started to walk away, I reminded her she needed to lock the door. How will she survive on this big campus without me? My husband and I walked her to her first activity, but we were a half hour early and she was the only one there. She was embarrassed she was with her parents and asked us to leave. We said our goodbyes. I looked back and watched her standing in the hallway by herself, and there she was, three years old, on her first day of preschool.
My husband and I left her there and went to our first parents’ session. They went over everything the kids would need to start their first semester away from home with as little stress as possible and above all healthy and safe. If there weren’t fifty other parents there I would have broken down in tears. Isn’t this kindergarten orientation. Aren’t you going to tell me she needs crayons, markers, and one of her dad’s old T-shirts for painting time. How could this be happening? Is she really leaving me? Has Mommy really turned into Mom, or worse yet Mo-ther.
I couldn’t help myself, I texted her, “How’s things?” I asked nonchalantly. She didn’t answer for a half hour. “She must not have signal,” I told myself, ”She’s having a good time and doesn’t have time to text back,” I said, almost out loud, “She doesn’t want to tell me she hates it here,” yeah that’s the one, of course I decided that was the answer. A half hour later a text came back, “good,” was all it said. What does that mean, good, it could mean anything!!
About an hour later I called the vet where our dog is boarded for the duration of the orientation. At least he still needs me. The receptionist brightly told me “he’s doing great, he was just outside, and now he’s sleeping peacefully in his air-conditioned room.” Of course, I texted my daughter to tell her the dog was good. “Yay!” was all she said.
So, my husband and I attended all our grown-up sessions and met all the other sad/excited/stressed grown-ups leaving their children for the first time too.
We got back to the hotel room around six sans our daughter. I guiltily texted her again and said, “When you get a chance give me a call so we can work out tomorrow’s pick up.”
“Okay,” she typed back, “but it will be later.”
It’s almost ten and she hasn’t called. I realize the answer is she’s having a good time. Which, of course, is a great thing, I want her to be happy. But I am also happy that we pick her up tomorrow and go home and go on with our lives. I’ll get back to you at the end of the summer when drop-off is for real.
At least we have this practice run. There are very few things in life where you get to practice. But, I know for the next month and a half I will hold her as tight as she will let me and cherish every moment. Well, except for the times that she’s telling me she’s got three loads of laundry she needs me to do by tomorrow!
I love you my beautiful daughter, I will always and forever be your mommy.
Dana Klosner is the parenting columnist for Family Magazine, a publication distributed internationally on military bases. She is a frequent contributor to NY MetroParents. Her features have also appeared in Newsday, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun. She culls her parenting pieces from her experiences in raising two happy, drug free kids.