Transitions: Taking My Daughter to University & Finding My Own Wings

We delivered my older daughter to university this past weekend, to a campus of ivy-covered old stone buildings and modern new ones made of concrete and glass, tree-lined paths wending their way between. There was a long line of cars snaking along the street. Other parents delivering their fledgling birds to nests of their own away from home. It’s a major threshold, is it not?

But I seem to be weirdly out of step with other parents around me.

“Oh, that must be so hard for you,” one says, “All those hours you’ve spent, all those years, driving to cheerleading all over the place. How will you fill the time?”

Really? I think.

“Gee, you’re house is going to feel a bit emptier, huh?”

Yeah, for sure. And a wee bit less laundry, too.

Or, “I know what you’re about to go through.”

Yes, yes, I suppose you may, and I appreciate your kind intentions, your meaning to offer support through a shared experience.

But no, I don’t think you do know what I am going through. I seem to have my own page on this one.

Can I share a piece of news?

My primary emotion isn’t sadness. It’s delight. For her and for me, too. Anticipation. Excitement. Also a modicum of relief, a lightening of sorts.

Yes, yes, soft-hearted soul that I am, I felt sad and emptied out for a solid seven-and-a-half minutes as we embraced and then left her in her university residence with her roommate. I also had a period of twenty minutes or so, while driving to Home Depot with her father to get her shelves for her dorm room, when I felt genuinely bereft. And I feel for her sister, who will certainl misses their daily laughter and hugs, their shared confidences, clothes and make-up brushes.

Do I miss her presence? Of course I do.

But that is not the main of it.

The main of it is a feeling that this is where we’re supposed to be.

She is exactly where she needs to be, doing exactly what she should be doing.

That is a good thing, no?

And she is so spectacularly competent that she doesn’t need my daily supervision or interference. When she would like my input, advice or support, she asks. She texts, for Pete’s sakes, or calls. And she knows that I would drop everything and come immediately if that is what she needed. Always. That’s the deal with me.

My basic role in her life hasn’t changed. Only the outer circumstances have re-arranged themselves.

And here’s the kicker, people: I’ve got my own sh** to do.

I have happily given every shred of attention and energy I could to my kids. That’s been my job, the most rewarding one I’ve ever found. I would change exactly nothing about the way I’ve raised my daughters (no, not even the thrown pizza). But I also know that my own hopes and dreams have largely been shelved all these years. Actually, that’s a mischaracterization: it has taken me all this time to really get a proper handle on my own hopes and dreams, lost as they’ve been in the confused ideas produced by our culture and educational system, lost as they’ve been in the clouds of other peoples’ noise and expectations. I can thank my kids for actually helping me figure myself out, for keeping my feet on the ground and teaching me about what matters in life.

And one more thing about all of this transition: Life is change. Nothing lasts. Struggle against that reality and you will suffer.

That’s not sad. That’s life. It’s exciting.

I know what you’re thinking: dear, you’ve read one too many Buddhist books, haven’t you?

Perhaps.

So now it is her time to fly.

Soon enough, it will be her younger sister’s time to fly, too.

And guess what? I WANT TO FLY. I want to turn into the person I am supposed to be. And I’m going to.

Just watch me.

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