All summer, I implored my college-bound but high-school-friends-fixated daughter to focus on the wide open future she was headed for rather than pine constantly for the pinched past she was leaving. I might as well have been imploring myself. And maybe I should have been.
The Saturday morning we were to leave, I cried in the kitchen, at the thought of her saying goodbye to the dog in a couple of hours. And that night as we turned out the lights in the hotel room in Ohio, I said jauntily, just to be a jerk, “Well, this is our last night together as a family!” And then I silently cried myself to sleep.
The next day, though! Up early! Breakfast from the great college café, Donkey Coffee! Juniors and seniors from the soccer team help carry her stuff up to her third floor room! Rearranging the bunks! Meeting dorm-mates and their parents! A laughing, teasing family trip to Walmart, to get one of everything! Family hasn’t been this relaxed together in months! (Years?) Back at the dorm, unexpected quiet time—her roommate doesn’t arrive for another week—she and Mom organize her room while Dad naps on roommate’s bunk! A team/parents’ dinner, where the head coach tells parents the purpose of soccer isn’t soccer—it’s making great women. (Oh my gosh, that’s what we think too!)
“I’m sick of goodbyes,” said one of the other freshman moms at the team dinner. “I’m ready for some hellos!”
They say you can’t grieve a death before it happens. But maybe you can grieve a life before another one happens! And maybe I’ve mostly already done that. It seems like there’s a dimmer switch in my head that I can turn, manually. My sadness at her departure goes dark as my ability to celebrate her new moment grows light. “Do you remember that sense of freedom at the start,” a friend writes about his first days at college 45 years ago, “how simply grand that was?!”
And after the long-pictured parting on Sunday evening, my wife and I had many drinks in the hotel bar. (The waitress had to be read into the unpredictable climate-change weather events she encountered every time she came over. Biblical tears with the bourbon, tornadic laughter with the chips and salsa.) And there, my wife and I began (began) to feel our own sense of freedom, and our own start. We’ve started lives together before, you know. We know how to do it.
To Writing Boots readers who have followed this child-rearing psychodrama the last couple of weeks (months? decades?)—I really appreciate it. Sharing this has been helpful to me—and if it ever proves to be helpful to you, all the better.
I go back to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s old line about the meaning of life: “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”
It’s the least we can do—and usually the most, too.