What Does a Mom Do When Her Daughter’s Whole World Shatters

When my daughter’s world was shattered, I did the laundry. When the country was afraid and anxious, I did the laundry. When I wasn’t sure about the future of my industry, I did the laundry. 

This move-out was heartbreaking. (photo via Katie Collins)

When we packed up my daughter’s college life in boxes and bins and hastily packed duffel bags, leaving the detritus of her world on the floor of her dorm room, I drove her home – and I did the laundry. 

What uncharted waters we are in. How arrogant I had been to assume that I had this parenting thing down. I was coasting toward the finish line as the mom of a soon to be 21-year old at the top of her game living her best college life leaving my wife and me as happy and quiet empty nesters. 

I was eagerly anticipating a family trip to Disney at the end of her spring semester before she started her summer job. My biggest worry was whether we would be able to get on the cool new Star Wars rides. Life felt so good. 

Then we all know what happened next and the world felt as though it was falling apart. Working in the performing arts industry I watched in disbelief as Broadway went dark, tours were pulled off the road and my theater’s full calendar was reduced to a barren wasteland.  

My daughter’s college cancelled the rest of the semester and sent the students home to engage in on-line distance learning—which seemed inconceivable for theater majors like my daughter who depend on the work that happens in the acting studios and rehearsal rooms and on a community, that thrives on being together.   

At the end of the longest, most surreal week I can remember, I found myself in her dorm room with the bins and boxes I hadn’t expected to use again for two more months, hastily packing sweaters and wall décor, bedding and toiletries, and books, so many books.    

Families smiled at each other and held elevator doors and helped each other navigate impossibly tight parking spots – but as I met the eyes of more than a few moms and dads and saw only sadness reflected there. What would this mean for our kids?  How could they ever come back from this?  Colleges thrive on community – for students, parents, and alumni – and with that community gone what would happen?  

A few hours later we were home – my daughter stood dazed amid boxes of supplies, hangers of clothes covered in protective trash bags, notebooks, and library books for her thesis that had been loaned to her through the summer – our cats prowled and climbed over the new additions to the landscape of the house.   Knowing what to do next seemed impossible. So, I did what I always do when I have to find some measure of control.   

I did the laundry. 

Sorting her linens, bedding, towels and clothes into piles I went to work.  With every clean blanket or comforter or pillow case I retrieved from the dryer I felt a bit better.   Folding them carefully, and tucking them away in their rightful bin I said to myself (and, if I have to admit it to the blankets themselves), “this is just for now, you’ll be back.”  This was one step, but it was one small concrete thing I could do for her and for my family to start piecing things back together.  

Over the coming weeks we will sort through everything we brought home, we will hang up the clothes, we will sort through the books, we will figure out how her online classes are going to work and I’m sure we’ll shed more than a few tears in the process.   

I can’t fix this for her, and I can’t give her back this precious time she’s lost. But I can do what I do best as a mom – make order out of chaos, dispense hugs, and do the laundry.  

More to Read:

My Daughter Is Able to “Adult” Even if I Occasionally Give Her a Hand

The College Years Are a Sweet Spot and I’m Not Ready for Them to End<

About Katie Collins

Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 30 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college senior.

Read more posts by Katie

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