Those of you who read my blog or are my friends on Facebook or read my tweets or talk to me in person know that this has been a rough summer / year for me regarding my relationship with my daughter. For many years Clare and I were uncommonly close — she told me pretty much everything about her life and we did things together more than I think the average mom and teenage daughter did. Suddenly, and I cannot pinpoint exactly when it happened, Clare stopped sharing things with me and chose to hang out with me less and less often. I knew that this was perfectly normal behavior and that I was lucky to have had the close relationship with her for as long as I did, but it still felt like a slap in the face. I still felt like I was breaking-up with someone. I didn’t handle it well.
This summer was the worst — she was rarely home between 2 pm and 1 am and slept until at least noon most days. Again, I knew this was normal behavior — after all, this was the last time she’d see her friends for a while. On top of that she began working at a part time job and started seeing a young man she’d met through some friends. I felt like one of the parents in the Peanuts cartoon strip. Never seen and only heard as an indistinguishable and annoying noise.
So, dropping her off at college yesterday shouldn’t have been a traumatic experience for either of us. She was clearly ready to try out her wings and I was ready to not wake up at midnight wondering where she was and who she was with and when she was planning on coming home. I’d long since stopped saving up things I wanted to tell her — little tidbits from my day or thoughts I’d had about something I read — because by the time we were able to talk whatever I wanted to say lost its importance to me and rarely seemed of interest to her anyway.
We’d not read the dropping-off-your-student-at-Sarah-Lawrence-College information — Clare read it but most of it didn’t register with her. I think I just didn’t want to think about it so didn’t see that we were actually supposed to arrive at 8 am for a day of orientation etc. We saw that she’d be able to move into her dorm at 11 so shot for that time of arrival. We also didn’t anticipate an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike that caused 15 miles of stop-and-go traffic. We got to the school around 2:30 and annoyed school officials handed Clare her registration materials and room key. Not a good way to start out at college. Lesson learned — don’t expect your teenage child to read important registration information. I’m not sure we actually got the information ourselves — I think Clare got it in an email from the school.
When we finally got to the dorm, her roommate was waiting for her outside. Clare’s known her roommate for most of her high school years, if not longer. She showed us to their room — on the lower level of the dorm. I was shocked to see such a dreary room considering the price we are paying for the school (now officially the most expensive college in the country). There was one dim light in the room, not counting the lights by the girls’ mirrors. The beds were metal with plastic covered mattresses. Sarah’s bed was already made — she’d arrived on time — but Clare’s looked so depressing. We unpacked the truck (full to the brim) and brought her belongings into the room she’d call home for the next year, at least.
Clare and Sarah had to go to a mandatory meeting so Sarah’s parents, Dean and I stayed in the dorm and tried to fix the room up a bit. I didn’t want to do too much because I knew Clare would want to make the room hers, so I simply made the bed. Sarah’s parents set up a bedside table they’d just purchased and Dean put light bulbs in the colorful lamp that Sarah brought. Those few changes made the room much more cozy.
The college had the day tightly scheduled with meetings and a set “Goodbye” time. We were scheduled to say goodbye to Clare between 5 and 5:30. She came back from her 4:30 meeting at 5:15, commented on the bed being made, then told us it was time to say goodbye. She looked, to me, a little more unsure of herself than she had all summer — more vulnerable, but perhaps that was me, projecting my feelings on her. I certainly was not feeling strong, but she’d earlier begged me not to cry and I didn’t cry. We hugged her goodbye, snapped a few photos and left.
The crying didn’t start until we stopped for dinner at a service plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike where I sat in a stall the ladies room and shed the first tears of the day. I’d been thinking all the way back how I’d not really prepared her for this day. How I’d neglected to read the registration day information, how I’d forgotten to buy her laundry detergent. How I’d not insisted we shop for some dorm things together even though she was adamant that she and Sarah would do it. I worried that she’d not get enough to eat since her meal plan didn’t include breakfast (her choice). I kicked myself for not buying that mini fridge for Clare because I was upset that she’d not found the time to go to Costco with me. By the time we’d reached the service plaza I’d pretty much decided I was the world’s worst mother and I felt bad for Clare that she had me as a mother. That is what I cried about in the ladies’ room.
When we got back home and went to bed I cried for myself. I cried because that always awake inner ear that mothers have would not be used to listen for Clare anymore. That if she needed me and called for me in the night I’d not hear her because she was 4 hours away. I cried, remembering the infant we brought home from the hospital a little over 18 years ago. I cried because I felt that part of my soul was now elsewhere.
I also thought about some of you — you who’ve lost children or wanted children and were unable to have them. I thought how selfish I was being and that she was only in college — a natural part of growing up.
Is suspect that the next few days will be rough, but I’ll eventually get used to her being gone. We’ll see her in two months if not sooner, and she’ll be back for Thanksgiving (although, if my friends are correct, won’t stay home much when she’s back).
Clare’s grown up to be a remarkable young woman (despite my shortcomings) and I’m very proud of her. I’m just in a new stage of parenthood with her. And of course, we have two more years before our son goes off to college. Wait until that blog post.