The tears started early. Like more than a year early.
Anytime I saw a parent’s social media post of their child marking a senior year milestone, especially their goodbye at college, I felt the waterworks start.
During my own daughter’s senior year, I was acutely conscious of our dwindling time together. After 18 years, my daughter would be leaving the nest. I knew it was part of the circle of life, but that didn’t make it any easier.
Then the dreaded day arrived.
We drove up on a Wednesday in late August, our car packed with her stuff. Thanks to COVID, we didn’t even get a normal move-in experience. Only one of us could be in her dorm room with her at a time, so we traded off. The next morning, after stocking her up with groceries, we said our goodbyes.
As we hugged, I felt the tears start. They came full force as I watched her walk away from our car toward her dorm. Again, due to COVID, we fully expected the university to send students home within days, though for her sake, I hoped that wouldn’t be the case.
It was strange coming back to our house without her. My parents—who came to watch our son in our absence—recalled the feeling well. They knew exactly what I was going through. Once they left, her absence was even more noticeable.
But look, her bedroom doors are open, and the room is clean! Her stuff isn’t left for days in random parts of the house! She’s not here to push her brother’s buttons or complain about my meal ideas!
Except I miss her snark. I miss playing speed card games with her. And I miss seeing her face every day.
In the beginning, it was difficult to not bombard her with a million questions like the mom and journalist I am. I tried my hardest to back off and let her experience college independently. We FaceTimed once a week and texted occasionally. We had dinner together as a family a few times, her eating in her dorm room while we joined in from our kitchen table via my iPad. Bonus: this forced both of my kids to actually communicate with one another! I even let a few weeks go by without a face-to-face conversation, knowing there wouldn’t be much to talk about. It was also about sending her the message that as long as we stayed in touch somehow, I’d be happy.
And now it’s Thanksgiving break. She came home as scheduled, though her dorm experience was far from normal. This is all she’s going to get for her freshman year. Her university has announced that next semester will be remote, asking that undergraduates stay at their permanent residences. To her credit, she’s fine with it. With more than 125 cases of COVID in her dorm this semester, we are too. In addition to (and because of) the higher risk of COVID and its resulting stress, college lately has meant pretty much being cooped up in her dorm room with bad food.
It helps that she got a taste of dorm life and has made a few friends. That’s good enough. Being part of the Class of 2020 means learning how to be resilient.
Now we’ll have to adjust to having her home, for at least six to nine months. Maybe by then I’ll be ready to let her go again!