And the Walls are Closing In
Journals of a reluctant mom as she preps her daughter (and herself) for college
I'm facing the inevitable. The wheels are in motion and, to be honest, I'm not entirely happy about it. My daughter, my last born, is a college-bound high school senior and I have been hit like a ton of bricks with the reality of an unstoppable change sweeping over our lives. Reminiscent of the famous scene in Escape Route where Ben is trapped in a rapidly shrinking room while frantically searching for answers, I am trapped between the excitement of watching as she spreads her wings and the urge to hit the breaks and keep her in the nest while knowing, sadly, that there is really only one option.
This year has been a series of "last things." The last first day of school, her last homecoming game, our last holiday season living under the same roof. Is it ridiculous for me to tear up when the last trick-or-treater of the year rings the doorbell, knowing that she may never be with me again as I gawk over cute costumes while passing out candy? Or when I take down the tattered decorations we've put up for years, knowing that she may never see them again in person? Don't even get me started on Christmas, I swear I'll lose it.
I'm a big pile of mush these days, barely holding it together as I move through this series of last times. And her? She just laughs, rolls eyes and tells me it's not that deep. Someday, as with many of my dramatic reactions, she will know that it is. It is very, very deep.
I've been a single parent for over ten years, eight of which she and I have been on our own. Single parents have a unique relationship with the prospect of an empty nest. Not only do we face the loss of our steadfast companion, but we also have to adjust to the idea of living solo. And we are conflicted. In truth, this idea of living alone has been an on-and-off fantasy for me. There were plenty of occasions when I longed for the day that I could leave the house clean and return to the same condition, who hasn't? In many ways it signifies a return to my pre-parent state, when I used to think about my own needs first, when wine and cheese at 10 o'clock made for a perfectly suitable dinner, and laundry was done bi-monthly, if that. It is upon these luxuries that my fantasy was built and my happy place took form. But now, just like that, it has morphed into a dismal place where the last things can instantly transform me into a blubbering mess.
Of course, there is that proverbial silver lining. Watching my daughter grow into a young woman and experiencing, through her, the thrill of becoming independent and engaging in a new chapter of her life, is beyond amazing. Then again, is it wrong for me to love that she vacillates between dread and excited anticipation of what is to come? Of course it's not - I'm a mom. Still, I know my place. My role for the remainder of this year, until the day I drop her at her dorm room with an armload of Target bags, is to encourage her and share in her excitement, all the while acquiescing to her opinion that I am, in fact, being dramatic. I get that. I can do that.
So tonight we work on college applications. I will pull myself together and try not to appear too misty-eyed as we fill out page upon page of information - the clubs, the sports, the personal essay - extrapolating the highlights of all that we have experienced together over the past 18 years. The applications will then be submitted, acceptance will be granted, and the wheels will remain in motion. And while the walls may still feel like they are closing in, I will continue to search for the answers as we move closer to the dreaded drop-off. And my heart will continue to steadily open to the new normal, in pace with the world that is laid out in front of her, because that's what mom's hearts do.
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My lifelong love of storytelling and reading has brought me here…the stories keep me here.
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This threw me back to three years ago, when I was helping my son fill out college applications as well. He decided to take a gap year during the pandemic, and is now a 2-nd year student. As a single mom, I can relate to your feelings. I still miss him, but those holidays and breaks (I am a college professor, so a lot of our breaks are at the same time) spent together are precious.
As a teacher I can see how every parent wants and dreads this so much... I get to see my students for 7 years if they continue on the path I am a part of... and when they finally go off to college... I feel a little left behind. Loved your words... keep sharing... it will help.