I see my daughter in bite sized pieces of time and it’s not enough. A few hours here after a trip to a college performance. A couple of hours there to bring a few loads of things home before the end of the semester. Two whole nights at Easter break. A lunch. A coffee. A hug. And then we are pulled apart again by the currents of the life of a twenty-year old on the go.
This is what I get now.
Bite-sized pieces of time that leave me hungry for the real meal.
When My Daughter Left for College
When my daughter left for college two years ago I was naturally a little blue and, (because I’m me and have elevated worry to an art form), more than a little anxious about her finding her people and her place. Which she did beautifully.
So beautifully that the demands of being an RA and a theater major in constant rehearsals meant that her breaks always get cut a little short (her entire spring break this year was a single weekend thanks to a rigorous rehearsal schedule), and as a result our time together gets cut short as well.
If you had known me when my daughter was a baby, a toddler or a young girl you would never have believed I’d be mourning the loss of time to spend with her the way I am now. Those younger years were trying for me and I felt ill-equipped as a mom at every turn.
I used to drop her off at day care, drive to my office and either sigh with relief at having eight hours of grown up time, or burst into tears because the morning had been a disaster and I was so sure I was doing everything wrong.
But difficult kids often grow into wonderful and charming teenagers who then morph into really interesting adults that you actually want to spend time with. And unsure and anxious moms gain their footing and finally figure out what they’re doing (or at least take comfort in the fact that no one else seems to know what they’re doing either).
And this is where life really pulls the rug out from under you, because this is exactly when it carries away those really cool adults on journeys of their own that have nothing to do with you. (Ok, in terms of tuition payments, packing advice, and emergency help with car repairs they have something to do with you but you’re clearly a supporting player in this script).
I’m not saying that when we are together everything is rosy. There have been plenty of times we get in each other’s way, get on each other’s nerves, or ask each other for a little space. Her first summer home was definitely a learning curve for us both.
But now I find I long even for the luxury of enough time together to get tired of each other! In passing she references the germ of an idea for her thesis, something so fascinating I want to drop everything and sit down and talk about it with her. But there isn’t time.
Her rehearsals, once such a huge part of our lives and fodder for long conversations, now happen miles away and often long after I’m asleep. I catch a glimpse of her on her social media laughing among friends and wonder what the occasion was. When she’s home she teases me “you’re always asking ‘who’s that? What was that? Where were you?’ It’s ok for you not to know everything!”
Of course, she’s right. And I feel like an awkward freshman trying to get the attention of a super cool senior.
Recently the bite-size chunks have grown even smaller as her studies took her abroad for a month. The time difference, the limitations of the WIFI necessary for free texting or calling, and her packed schedule means even less time to connect.
The messages are brief and factual: “had our first class this morning,” “at such and such museum today,” but offer little else. In the grocery store I run into the parent of one of her childhood friends, recently enlisted in the military and he bemoans that they can only write old fashioned letters thanks to the restrictions on communications while their daughter is in basic training.
I realize how spoiled and indulged we are by this constant connectivity and remember my mother and her daily letters and the carefully timed phone calls (after 9pm on a Sunday was always cheaper!). A memory flashes behind my eyes of visiting her in my twenties and her saying “I look forward so much to you coming then it goes so fast and you’re gone again,” a sentiment I was quick to dismiss then as I eagerly returned to my ‘real’ life, leaving her in my rear-view mirror.
I want to reach back through time and tell my mother I get it now. And just as I ponder the bittersweet irony of this life lesson, I get a notification from across the ocean saying simply “I miss you.” And my heart fills back up again. And I resolve that when the intrepid traveler returns I’m going take the world’s biggest bite of her. I know I have to make it last!