Two weeks from today I’ll be giving my daughter that famous last hug before I leave her at college; the one everyone talks and writes about.
They say it’s supposed to be quick — like ripping off a band-aid.
I say “they” can suck it.
Besides, when my daughter was little, she’d pull a band-aid off a tiny bit at a time so the entire process took about half a day.
That sounds a lot better.
Lately, a lot of people have been asking me how I’m doing with “all this.”
If by ‘all this’ they mean denying the fact that the day is barreling at me like a freight train, than I’m doing excellent, thankyouverymuch.
I wish I could say I was lying, but I’m not.
The past month I’ve been busying myself to the point of craziness with lists and details:
Dorm room decor? Got it.
Four seasons of appropriate footwear? Check.
Forms and paperwork? On it.
Thinking of every possible toiletry she’d ever possibly need in her entire lifetime? Happily.
Penciling in every potential date over the next four months when I can see her? Done (months ago).
The point is, I’ve been distracting myself with all these jobs so I can avoid thinking about the actual reason I’m doing them.
The other day I was telling her how in just a month from now she’ll have met some of the people who will be important in her life for years and years: bridesmaids at her wedding; Godparents to her children; girlfriends to meet for girls’ weekends with when they’re in their 40’s. I was also telling her about the fabulously mundane parts of college life: eating with friends at the cafeteria (which in today’s world are fabulous “marketplaces” that are better than any mall’s food court); hanging out with her dorm-mates watching crappy TV and eating junk food at 2 a.m.; walking across her beautiful campus when it’s ablaze with fall colors; lazy weekends with no one telling her to clean her room — it was easy to get excited for her.
Easy to forget what has to happen for all those exciting things to start.
Easy to forget what’s being traded for all those exciting things.
But then I do.
Hearing her voice laughing with her sister multiple times a day.
Hearing her singing in the shower every night.
Hearing her ask me for a hug at least once a day — every day.
Seeing her walk through the door and throwing all her crap on the floor.
Yelling at her to pick up all her crap on the floor.
Popping into her room to tell her good-night.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s all happening exactly as it was destined to happen; exactly as you hope it happens when you have them and you imagine that unimaginable day in the far-off future when they’ll leave home. To have a child who is bright, mature, confident and ambitious? It’s the sign that as parents you’ve done your job.
But the drop my stomach takes when I dare to imagine my bright, funny pal not living in the same house with us is physical. For 18 and a half years I’ve seen her just about every day. To switch gears so suddenly in the middle of this ride? It’s hard not to stall for a bit, and it’s easy to keep riding the clutch so you don’t.
What is making this even more difficult is that she’s feeling it, too. Is she excited about college? Absolutely. Is she excited about leaving home? As it’s gotten closer, not so much. Everything she’s leaving behind is hitting her full-force: her beloved cat, her little sister who’s her best friend, her comfy bed (that the little sister is threatening to take over), the laughter over the stupid conversations that are typical in our house, the security of the family she adores. (Damn it. I knew I should’ve been meaner to her and made her life more of a hell over the past 18 years.)
But she’s anxious — and a bit sad — and right now those things are overshadowing her excitement. It’s normal. It’s OK. (Although, it’d be a hell of a lot more OK if she’d actually start the packing process and start cleaning her room already.) And it’s actually a bit of a distraction from my own anxiousness because — just like always — my instinct is to make sure she’s OK with it before even trying to deal with myself.
Old habits die hard.
The other day I told her that I think what needs to happen now is that we just need to get to the other side of this. We’re close enough to something scary that it’s time to just hold our breath and take the plunge and get to the fun, exciting part.
You know how when the roller coaster car you’re in is click-clacking up to the top of the giant hill and your stomach is twisty and your palms are sweaty and you’re just praying you don’t throw up or pass out? But then when you get over that hump at the top and start flying down the hill, all the breath leaves you because it’s so exhilarating?
(I should point out that I liked roller coasters a lot more when I was younger.)
In two short weeks I’ll be giving that last hug and ripping off the band-aid.
Because like it or not, we all know that when it’s time to take the band-aid off, whatever is underneath it is ready for some fresh air.