I was shocked as tears welled up as I hugged my daughter goodbye at the curbside of her dorm, as she launched into 2nd semester of her freshman year.
My daughter reassured me she was going to be ok. But, I already knew that.
“THIS is why I’m crying,” I sobbed, as she squeezed me tighter.
“You’ve grown up so much in the past few months, and I’m proud of the young woman you’re becoming and it makes me miss you in a whole new way,” I said
“Uh-huh” she replied with a goofy face, reverting back to the girl I knew.
“Keep making good choices, please,” I reminded her as my mind swirled with some of the stories she’d shared that painted a much-too-vivid picture of the actual reality of her stressful, anxious life at college.
This goodbye was different from the one in August, when we dropped her off at college for a brand-new chapter of her life and ours. That was a monumental goodbye—a milestone moment signifying the end of an era—full of hopes, dreams, and the anticipation of the unknown.
The second semester departure contained the anticipation of the “known”—a recognition of her new reality and the good and bad that came with it.
With this goodbye I knew she was going back to a dorm room that was far too claustrophobic. She loves her roommate. They’ve become BFF’s. But I also know my daughter needs her alone time. But not too much alone time, or it becomes a painful lonely.
With this goodbye I knew she was going back to friends she’d made in her new sorority. These friends, with the exception of her “Big”, are still mere acquaintances. Some are party girls…my daughter is not. She’s still finding “her people” in this sorority and she craves making meaningful connections. She will get there. She will find her people. It’ll take time.
With this goodbye I knew she was going back to a grueling academic schedule with a goal of graduating in 3 ½ years. She made the Deans List first semester. Woo-Hoo! Last semester she took classes in her major. This semester her schedule is filled with core curriculum classes. BORING!
With this goodbye I knew she was heading off with a full stomach and a bag full of “dorm friendly” food. Winter break she came home thinner than ever. Without any food service in her dorm, she’s left to walk across campus to hunt and gather. She’s told me, sometimes it’s better to eat microwave Mac & Cheese than trudge across campus in the cold, wet, and darkness. The basic needs of self-care like eating have become a chore.
With this goodbye I knew that the glitter of the college newness had worn off. The days would be shorter, the Indiana weather would be colder, and the glory of the holiday break at home, that is never long enough, surrounded by nothing but sleeping, eating, and hanging out with family and her friends would make it even tougher for her to readjust.
With this goodbye I also knew she’d survive and grow, just like she did first semester. I wasn’t by her side, and I didn’t need to be. I knew the change in her maturity didn’t come from the passing of time—it came from facing the day-to-day reality and challenges of being independent at college.
It wasn’t always pretty—it wasn’t always stuff that warmed a mama’s heart to picture in her head—but whether it was exciting stuff or tough stuff, it was real life. Her real life. And her “real life” stuff was turning my daughter into an even more wonderful version of herself..
With this goodbye I realized the gap between who she once was and who she was becoming was growing wider. Because I’ve felt how the distance between us is more than just miles. It’s also in the reality of me no longer being part of her daily existence to watch it all unfold.
The girl I dropped off in August had become a young woman I was sending back in January.
And this time, when I said goodbye to my daughter for her second semester of college, my heart was missing them both.
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