“I’m not ready for this to end.”
My daughter, a second-semester college junior, sent this simple text the day of the closing performance of a theater department production that had been her primary focus for months. As a theater major, she knows so well that these productions are a huge barometer of how the students are growing as actors, designers and stage managers, and this production had given her a huge opportunity to shine.
But it wasn’t the spotlight that she was talking of missing. It was that feeling of belonging to something bigger than yourself, of a shared experience and of creating a powerful piece of art. And I knew exactly what she was talking about because lately I had been thinking the same thing: “I’m not ready for this to end.”
College years are a sweet spot and it’s okay to mourn their end
There’s a lot of airtime devoted to parents of high school juniors and seniors who feel the clock running down on their time with their teenagers. But the prevailing notion seems to be that parents of college juniors and seniors are supposed to be rejoicing that “the end is in sight,” and “soon they’ll be launched.” But rarely do we acknowledge what a sweet spot those college years can be, and that it’s ok to mourn them coming to an end.
It has barely seemed to be a split second since that humid August morning three years ago when we moved her into her first dorm room, shuffling sheets of papers about checking in for her ID here, filling out forms for her campus job there, and notices about where parents could find a cool bottle of water and snack during such a busy, hot, emotional day. And now here we are staring down the barrel of her last three semesters of college and I found myself echoing her sentiment.
“I’m not ready for this to end.”
Oh, don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting that my child become like Zeke, the erstwhile eternal college student of my favorite 1970s and 80s comic strip “Doonesbury.” And I won’t be sad to see the end of FAFSA forms and tuition statements, or endless trips to Target for command strips. But just as my child has found a place of belonging and a happy community at her college – so have I.
I’m not ready to say goodbye to Family Weekend, or random visits to take her out for lunch. I’m not ready to stop going to that hip coffee shop near campus with her. I’m not ready to bid adieu to her friends and even their parents who we’ve finally gotten to know. I’m not ready to stop browsing the bookstore for new swag or to stop sending her surprise care packages. I’m not ready to let go of the utter joy of watching my child grow and thrive in a place so perfectly suited for her. I even found myself getting envious of parents just starting down the college road with their younger teens. I love these college years and they are flying way too fast.
High school was so fraught with “what comes next” questions – always with the eye on the prize of the college admission waiting at the end of the road. Once she was firmly ensconced in her new college life, I finally exhaled. It’s been lovely, frankly, to have a few years of just being “in the now” without thinking of where she’ll go next or what she’ll do.
What is the next step, post-college?
But with her senior year lurking on the horizon I feel the old anxiety rising. What will her next step be? What should it be? Where will it be? And as I ponder these big questions another realization hits me. Those answers are all up to her and I’m just watching from the sidelines. For the first time in over 20 years I probably won’t be the one with the answers to her big questions, and as much as I know that’s the way it should be, I’m not ready for that to end either.
But just as surely as we survived college tours, SATs and application essays; dorm shopping and homesickness, so too will we survive these next three exciting semesters. I’ll bolster her when her thesis work seems overwhelming. I’ll applaud her at her productions. I’ll embarrass her at Family Weekend by hugging all her friends, and I’ll make sure to book my hotel room for commencement weekend months in advance. And the whole time I’ll marvel at the adult woman standing where my baby girl once was. And when she calls me and says, “I’m not ready for this to end,” I’ll reply “Neither am I.”
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Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 29 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 junior. Katie is a lover of musical theater, the original Star Trek, cheeseburgers, old Carol Burnett show reruns, and weekly lap swimming at the local YMCA. She tries very hard not to take herself too seriously.