CRUNCH! SLURP! SIGH! CRUNCH! SLURP! SIGH!
No those aren’t the beginning lines of some new children’s fairytale about a magical giant or mythical beast, rather it’s the sound of my 19-year old daughter eating her cereal before heading off to her summer job each morning.
Mornings are my quiet time, coffee, some reading, some writing, the occasional bill-paying session, but the emphasis is on quiet. A precious quiet that was now being ruined by the exceptionally loud bowl of Special K Vanilla Almond being consumed next to me. When my daughter was little, weekday breakfast time consisted of frenzied lunch-packing, backpack-checking and ponytail-making all while she munched on her chocolate chip pancakes or French toast sticks, and I gulped down a coffee.
During her teenage years the breakfast hour (or let’s be serious: half-hour and even that is generous) consisted of yelling reminders to get dressed, navigating the daily crisis about how the only possible thing to wear was in the laundry, and finally giving in and letting her eat her Eggo waffle in her room just to buy me 10 minutes to throw an English muffin in the toaster oven and fire up the Keurig. Some mornings I would arise at 5:30 just to be able to drink a cup of coffee without anyone asking me for anything.
When she left for college I discovered the joy of a morning to myself. My wife, a nurse, leaves the house nearly two hours before I do, giving me this luxurious stretch of time to savor my coffee, perhaps scramble an egg or toast a bagel. I had time to read, to write, or if I felt like it, to sleep an extra half hour after a tough night of work.
Sure, I missed my daughter, but I’m not going to lie, mornings were pretty awesome. After 18 years in the parenting trenches, many of those years as a single mom, these quiet mornings felt like my reward for time served.
CRUNCH! SLURP! SIGH!
What was this noisy new reality? Desperate to escape, I took to taking my coffee and my book out to our back deck claiming I “just wanted to enjoy the summer morning,” but a heat wave and some rainy days trapped me inside with the cereal, and a mixture of emotions –pride at the accomplished woman my daughter was growing into, and irrational irritation at this person who had moved back in to disrupt my quiet empty nest in all her cereal-crunching glory.
Welcome to the Sophomore Summer.
This summer of limbo between freshman and sophomore years in college poses some unique challenges to students and parents alike.
I had counted down the days to her return in May, envisioning us sharing lazy chats over iced coffees, reading on the beach, shopping together and being more like roommates than parent and child. She had most likely counted down to being able to catch up on her sleep, read guilty pleasure books, and visit with friends. After a month of struggling to adjust to each other’s rhythms, I was frankly, ready to empty the nest again.
“Oh, you miss her though!” said a co-worker.
“I miss the IDEA of her, “I replied. “The reality of her is something else altogether.”
When chatting with some family friends my daughter opined “I think mom and I get along better from a distance.”
We laughed about it but inside I wondered what was happening.
But one morning I regarded the modest living room/dining room of our equally modest condo and remembered how I had chafed at the increasingly narrow walls of my parent’s townhouse apartment during my own sophomore summer. How I had rolled my eyes at everything that came out of my mother’s mouth. How my father’s rules about clutter and laundry seemed oppressive. My wife volunteered that she herself had spent her sophomore summer just counting down the days to return to college.
Ok fine, so I empathized with what my daughter was feeling, but I was still unsettled.
And that was because I was also empathizing with what my parents must have felt – irritation at my attitude, exasperation at the mess I made around their clean house, and the hassle that came with incorporating my schedule into their well-organized one.
I was stunned by the realization of how self-centered and annoying I must have been at 19 and 20 and wanted to reach back across three decades to apologize to people long, long gone.
I’d love to say that we both saw the error of our ways and ended the summer in a series of magazine-worthy, mother-daughter bonding moments. Not exactly.
Although we did fit in some beaching, some shopping and some reading just as I had envisioned even if it came with a healthy side of sassiness from both of us. But when the calendar told us her return to college loomed a mere two weeks away. I found myself grabbing onto her one morning as she left for work and whispering “I don’t want you to go.”
Turns out I will miss her very much.
Just not so much the cereal crunching.