The Truth About College Drop-Off and Empty Nests
It has been four weeks since I dropped my daughter off at college. 29 nights without her at home to be exact. As I continue to live life in my "empty nest", I am waiting for something monumental to change, for there to be a shift in the universe so grand that my world cracks if not crumbles. I have heard the horror stories from other mothers and I keep waiting for the sobbing to start, but it doesn't. The truth is: I didn't even cry when I moved her into her college dorm.
Why? Why is this not as awful as I expected? Because the things that people don't tell you are the things that really matter. It's the same way every woman tells you childbirth is the most horrific and painful thing you will ever experience in your entire life, when in reality giving birth was easier for me than having a root canal. When life offers you an epidural, take it. I realize now that every decision I made for the 18 years and 2 months leading up to the notorious college drop-off made that day easy for me. I had unselfishly given all of myself to give her everything that matters.
From the moment I discovered I was pregnant I began making sacrifices. I wanted to be the best mother I could possibly be and I wanted her to enjoy a wonderful childhood that would eventually lead to a fulfilling life. After she was born, the first sacrifice I made was leaving a high paying job in the tech industry and beginning a new life in a new state, with a new job, home and career. Well, that move was a mistake and the beginning of a long 18 year road featuring several career changes and personal sacrifices.
I raised her alone. There was no co-parent. I made the decision after she was 2 to be both her mom and dad because I was already doing it anyway and I hate extra baggage. I worked outside of the home, sometimes two jobs, and always freelanced and ran businesses out of the house. Yet in 18 years my daughter never once had a baby sitter. I never missed a school event, I never failed to make breakfast, lunch and dinner, I never skipped helping with school projects or homework and I participated in all the Brownie and Girl Scouting events - even the ones that included camping. I was the gymnastics mom, the dance mom, the cheer mom, the drama mom, the room mom and according to her - the most flawless Santa ever. I didn't miss a thing. I was present and I was in every moment. When I did have to travel for work, she stayed with my mother who took her to daycare or school and kept the same vigilant watch I did. My mom and my sister were my trusted back-up. My daughter can never say she woke up wondering where I was or when I'd be back. Her emotional and physical security were my first priority. Every. Single. Day. I still cringe when I hear mothers complain about being "trapped" at home with their kids during school breaks. I would have given my soul for one summer break at home with my child.
It wasn't always pretty for us. For a long time we lived in a tiny 1 bedroom apartment where I used the living room as essentially a storage unit. We shared a small bed and slept side-by-side for years. No matter how many jobs I had, we couldn't afford a lot of extras (i.e. cable) but I did my best to build a world where she valued experiences over material possessions. We read a lot, we cooked together, I saved money for movies, concerts and the theater. I exposed her to adventure and life outside of our tiny box. I rarely dated, and when I did it was only to satisfy my own physical needs - so she never met any of them. I wasn't a perfect mother, I was far from it, but I was blessed with a perfect daughter who made every day of my life better than the one before, so I strived to be better for her every day.
My goal was to provide all the support and love necessary to raise an intelligent, caring, compassionate and independent human being who would have enough self-confidence to go out into the world prepared for her journey. We have a unique bond and a very special relationship. Everything I put on hold, everything I "missed out on" made this brief goodbye easy, necessary and natural. It was time. For both of us. We were ready.
Truth #1: College dorm move-in day is big and it's chaotic. Luckily, my daughter moved into her university one week before the rest of the campus, so we were only dealing with 60 move-ins total. However, that doesn't change the fact that move-in day is not private. In fact, it's a very public, awkward situation trying to move your child into a shoebox shaped room, while the roommate(s) and their parents are doing the same.
We arrived early that morning and easily parked both of our cars just across the street from her building door. We were able to bring everything into her dorm room in just a couple of trips to and from the cars. We helped her arrange the furniture, lift the bed, unpack boxes and recycle boxes. Everything was seamless. Smooth sailing the whole way. We even met a few of the other people on her floor. Then her roommate and her family arrived to do all the same things. As parents, NoTwitterTodd and I felt Starlight's roommate and family deserved the same space and privacy to get their daughter settled in as we had. So we kind of just...left. No sad trombones, no tears, no slow-motion hug. It was just a tight simple squeeze with a mutual, "I love you" and "See you later". Because there was a family reception we needed to be back for at 4:30 PM.
Truth #2: College drop-off is a seemingly never ending series of events. From the drop-off Welcome Reception to Parents' Weekend the following weekend - it was a busy few days. There was the initial goodbye, then one later that evening after the reception. We had our third and final goodbye - sans Todd but with my mom - after the Welcome Mass the following weekend. There were plenty of opportunities to cry, but we were both too drained for tears.
In reality, leaving my only child at college was the easiest part of letting go. We were both looking forward to this day with excitement and anticipation rather than dread. This was everything she had worked towards for the last 3 years and one of the many milestones I've been working towards for 18 years. I was too proud of her and too happy for her to cry over what I might be losing. It was a time to celebrate her future and her accomplishments. I couldn't feel sadness because there was nothing to be sad about. This wasn't about me.
Truth #3: My nest will never be empty. For the first time in my life I can stop being my own worst enemy and accept that I did something right. I kinda kick ass as her mom. I have given her all of the tools necessary to become successful and live her dreams. I have been open and honest about life, sex, love, drugs, drinking, parties, work, politics, ignorance and violence. Now she gets to be the adult. She gets to determine what success looks like to her, what her true dreams are and what her calling is. I will always be here to guide her and provide advice, but I cannot make decisions for her.
I have seen her twice now since she moved - once for 1 minute and another time for about 15 minutes - and I am worried about a few things and excited about others. She will always be that silly little girl whose smile melts my heart. Yes, she's my baby and I miss her and I wish she'd come home for a few days, but ultimately I have to let her live her own life and trust that I provided a solid foundation for her to build upon. She knows she has a whole team here ready to support her - just a phone call away.
The real hard part is on the horizon. I set a goal to go back to school once my daughter was in college and that time has arrived. Now's the time for me to start crying!