Writer’s note: Please excuse any misspellings, weird sentence constructions or otherwise goofy mistakes. Normally I go over posts with a fine-toothed comb. But, I can’t read this one more time because I have to save every last Kleenex for the trip and my heart already feels like it’s going to rupture right down the middle.
Not a single tear splashed on senior night during volleyball season. I held it together during college declaration night. I did get a little misty on graduation, but that was it. Until this week. The flood gates have opened. It happens at the weirdest, most inappropriate and completely pedestrian times — in my car, in line at Trader Joe’s, at the pharmacy. Tomorrow, we’re driving my oldest child to college in California.
There was a time — specifically when she was 5 — when I would have been all too happy to send her packing. Seriously, that kid was so full of beans. When she was just 2 years old, buckled into the back seat, I remember driving along when the unmistakable foul smell of skunk floated through the open windows.
“Peeyew! Can you smell that? That is the smell of a skunk!” I said, looking into the rear-view mirror at her.
No. 1 looked squarely into the mirror, meeting my gaze, and yelled, “That smells like YOU, Mommy!”
So it went. For yeeeeeeaaaaars.
Then, I dunno, someone flipped the switch from sassy to sweet. She’s been freakishly kind and considerate and so not a turd ever since. And so, while other people tell me their kids have been barely home in the past year anyway or they’ve been pacing the house like caged lions ready to be sprung, my kid has been cocooning. We’ve spent the past weeks her siblings have been in school baking, exploring new restaurants and grabbing one last bite from all her old favorites, going on endless Target runs, buying and returning stuff from Athleta, sweating it out at CrossFit and brunching. We haven’t had this much alone time since she was an only child — and we’ve already established that it’s a miracle she didn’t stay an only child. It’s not fair that now that she’s fun and witty and such a cool person, she’s going away. It will be a tough adjustment. Even when just one of the kids goes away for a one-night sleepover, things feel so off. We’ll have to deal with that feeling for months before seeing her IRL It’ll be hard.
Now, we turn her loose. We’ve done our best to prepare her. She’s already set with the academics, that I have no worries about. It’s that other scary social stuff that freaks me out, which is why I dragged her to self-defense. (We watched the movie “Tag” recently and when one of the characters put another into a headlock, she whispered, “I know how to get out of that.”)
We’ve tried to teach her about alcohol because there will be rampant underage drinking even though the dean of students at her college keeps emailing me to say that is an inaccurate assumption*.
I’ve been drunk, no joke, three times in my life and the worst was at age 45 and should have known better and yet fell prey to that classic pitfall of not knowing how much alcohol was truly in one of those froufrou drinks. My friends kept bringing ’em and I kept drinking ’em and the next morning I felt exactly like I had been dead for three days. Or at least, that’s what my mouth tasted like. So, we’ve impressed upon her all the safety stuff: Don’t take a drink someone gives you, know how much alcohol you can handle, stay away from the froufrou drinks because you don’t know what all is in there… My husband — doing his best Lin-Manuel Miranda — says beer is beer is beer. He maintains it’s the safest of the bevies because it always has about the same alcohol content so it’s easier to know your limit. He’s composed his own “Dad’s Guide to Alcohol,” which offered weirdly accurate descriptions of booze. Sample: Rum is angry syrup.
It’s a 10-hour drive to campus and one of the minivan’s back rows is already packed seat-to-ceiling with congested-family-of-seven sized Kleenex boxes. For just me. It won’t be enough.
I keep reminding myself that this is a good thing, that this is what kids are supposed to do. This is what we parents spend 18 years training for — letting go. Doesn’t matter, I can’t even bear to look at the baby pictures, that seems like another lifetime. Still, vivid memories flash through my head of wrestling with a car seat and lugging that heavy seat plus baby into a store just trying to make a quick diaper run. But invariably, that kid would cry and I would have to stop and try and soothe her and then there would be a blowout and I’d have to change a diaper and her outfit and what should have been a 10-minute trip would stretch into an hour. I remember how every gray-haired person who passed us would smile and cluck their tongues and wistfully say, “Enjoy. It goes by fast.”
Bullshit, I thought, but of course, was too polite to say. Inside my head I was seething. You have no idea how tired I am and I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m sick of changing diapers and I can’t believe I haven’t showered in a week and I don’t see how this is ever going to end.
Now all I want is a do-over.**
*The dean doesn’t just write me personally; it’s an email blast to all the incoming parents. I just felt like I needed to clarify that I am your average run-of-the-mill worrywart parent and not one of those full-blown, has all the college administrators’ personal emails kind of crazy, helicopter parent. We’ll see how quickly I hop onto the crazy parent train.
**But, I would skip over all that diaper and spit-up and not sleeping through the night nonsense. Oh, who am I kidding? I’d do all that stuff over, too. But, not the potty training. That was brutal.