“I’m not going to cry,” I told my husband, Chuck, as we left the parent orientation session held several months before our daughter would attend college in the fall.
Maybe those other mothers were going to cry after dropping off their kids at the dorm, but not me. I looked around the auditorium at the other mothers, wondering which ones were going to be crybabies. I thought, I won’t clutch a box of tissues when the time comes to say good-bye to Sarah. I’m from sturdier stock than that. Why snivel and sob just because my little girl is growing up?

We’d spent the afternoon listening to parents of upperclassmen talk about how their lives were going to change when our children left home for college. One seasoned mother warned that we would cry all the way home.

I elbowed Chuck. ‘That’s ridiculous,” I said. “Why are they making such a big deal out of this?” Being a mother is important to me, but — for crying out loud — it isn’t the only thing!  I have a job, I have friends, I have a life!

Sarah and I spent the summer sniping at each other. I hated the way she talked about how she couldn’t wait to leave — as if her life at home with us had been some kind of hostage standoff.  She hated the way I nagged her about cleaning up her room and putting her dishes in the sink, the way I grumbled when I needed to use the phone and she was tying up the line, the way I questioned my whereabouts when she went out with her friends. After all, she was eighteen. She didn’t need to check in with her mom every five minutes.

In August I ran into my friend, Pat, at the library. Pat remembered the weeks before her daughter left home for college the previous year.

“We fought all summer long,” she said. “I think it was our way of getting used to the idea of living apart. When you’re arguing all the time and angry, then you don’t feel so bad about her leaving.”
“And,” I responded thoughtfully,  “she doesn’t feel so bad about leaving when she’s mad at Mom.”

On moving day, we helped me unpack and store her belongings in the dorm room. I tucked the extra-long twin sheets onto Sarah’s mattress while Chuck assembled a storage shelf for her closet. After lunch, we said good-bye, hugged at the curb, and then Chuk and I drove away.

The woman at the parent orientation session was wrong,  I thought. This isn’t so bad.

Two days later I walked by her bedroom. The door was open, her bed was made, and all the clutter of her childhood, of her teenage years, was missing. Suddenly, it dawned on me: She’s gone.

Later, as I was vacuuming in the living room, I thought I heard someone say,”Mom,”  and I turned off the vacuum cleaner to listen for footsteps coming through the door, to answer a child’s call. Then I realized I was alone in the house. Sarah was gone, and nothing would ever be the same.

I longed to hear her voice. I wanted to know what she was doing. I wanted her to sit on the edge of my bed at night like she used to and tell me about her day, her classes, her teachers, her friends, the boys she liked, the boys who liked her….

“What’s wrong?” Chuck asked when he came home. I was chopping vegetables for stir-fry. He peered into my face. “Are you crying?”

“It’s just the onions,” I sniffed as a tear snaked down my cheek.

After dinner I said, “Let’s call her. Maybe she’s expecting us to call.”

“It’s only been two days,” Chuck said. “Let’s give her at least a week to settle in.”

He was right, of course. I didn’t want to turn into some kind of Stalker Mom. I remembered what it was like to be eighteen and away from home for the first time. She was meeting new friends, learning new ideas, forming new bonds. I had to give me the space — the distance — she needed.

Then the phone rang.

“Hi, Mom,” Sarah said. “Could you send me some pictures to put on my bulletin board? And a few stuffed animals?”

She wanted her teddy bear. She wanted a photo of her father and me— and one of her younger brother. She loved being at school, but she missed us, too. And then she started telling me about her day, her classes, her teachers,  her friends, the boys she liked, the boys who liked her ….

One thought on “ESSAY COLLECTION

  1. My daughter is starting high school in the fall which means college is only four years away. And these exactly are my worries – thank you for letting me know the intimacy will remain just over a phone line.

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