I’ve just been kicked in the gut. Again. Well, not literally. My only child, Olivia, just left to go back to college. This wasn’t our first goodbye, as she’s now in her second year, but it never gets easier. This tortuous routine begins weeks before she heads back to school. While she counts down the days to get back to her friends, her sorority, her classes—her freedom—I count down the days to hell.
I suppose I should be used to it by now. I tell myself that every time she comes home in an attempt to ward off the heart-wrenching send-off I know is coming. I remember driving home last August, after dropping her off for her sophomore year at college. I held it together as best I could as we hugged and said our “I love yous” in front of her dorm. Then I drove off and cried like a crazy person, to the point where I could no longer see the road through my tears and swollen eyelids. I called my long-time partner, Michael, for support. I was having trouble getting the words out through my sobs. I could picture him on the other end of the line, trying to be patient and loving, but really feeling like this was a bit much. “You’ve done this before,” he said. “You’re going to see her again in three weeks.” Right. And then I’ll have to say goodbye AGAIN.
When Olivia came into my life, I was a freewheeling, career-minded 37-year-old single woman. Adopting a baby from China seemed so right for me, though I was nervous about motherhood and unsure I could really manage this on my own. Looking back on the past 19 years, I marvel at how I grew into my “Mom” role. It didn’t come naturally to me, but I learned. My daughter and I became inextricably and indelibly linked through the thousands of challenging, beautiful, maddening, joyful, scream-inducing, laugh-until-you-fall-down moments. Together we figured out how to be a family. A forever family. But I think I may have misunderstood the “forever” part. I didn’t take into consideration she might actually want to have a life separate from mine. I mean, c’mon…what kid wouldn’t want to hang out with me forever? Don’t answer that.
As parents, we strive to make sure our kids become self-sufficient, independent human beings. Independence is the gold standard and we use it as a measure of our success. But truth be told, it hurts like a %$#* when you realize you’ve done your job. You’ve prepared your child for the big world and she can’t wait to get started. Instead of feeling proud, why does it feel like I’m being left behind?
I am going to let myself feel crappy for a while. I’m going to cry and wallow and feel extremely sorry for myself. I’m going to roam through the house like a lost and forlorn soul, finding sentiment in every tiny thing she left behind. Then I’m going to pick myself up and be the mom my daughter expects me to be—the mom she needs me to be. The mom I have been for the past 19 years.
Until she returns to college after coming home for spring break. Then all bets are off.