Being a mother. Heck of a hard job. Most of the time I feel so unqualified. Just when I had been lulled into thinking, I got this —my firstborn would hit a new phase. We made it through the newborn phase! Then she hit 18 months and started saying NO! The preschool age was a lot of fun once we established who was in charge. (Hearing me argue with a 4-year-old was quite comical to my husband.) By the time she was well into elementary school, I started thinking I’ve got this mom thing down. She was self-assured. A tomboy. Then adolescence hit. And she became self-conscious. Beginning high school was perhaps the worst transition yet. Worse than sleepless nights and breastfeeding around the clock. Worse than exhaustion from running after a toddler. It finally happened. She started becoming a real other person. A person who I had to help navigate through so many life changes. But wait – the only experience I had was my experience. And so many of those experiences, I did not want to do over.
But somehow we made it. Now, she’s finishing her freshman year of college, a college that’s 300 miles away. But she’s done it. And relatively on her own. When she calls, I love to hear her voice, hear her new experiences, the new people she’s met. Sometimes she calls with tears and disappointments. I feel the weight of the importance of what I say. And somehow I find the words. Even though on the inside I’m panicking. Don’t screw this up. Don’t say the wrong thing.
She’ll be home in two weeks for the summer. I can’t wait! Back to seeing her walk down the stairs to grab some coffee, hiding out of sight until she’s finished a cup. Back to cuddling on the couch to watch our latest binge on Netflix. Back to shopping trips where most of the time we just window shop. Back to lazy days where I’m lulled into thinking, she’ll always be here.
But these past 8 months have shown that there is a new normal. Holiday breaks showed how different she is. She is the same, but different. She is the same little girl who curls up with a good book or lays her head on my shoulder. But she is different. She is the young woman who brings her boyfriend home for spring break and lays her head on his shoulder. She still reads, but she is the young woman who has words that others love to read. She is the same daughter. But she is different.
I wonder if I’m different too. I hope so. I hope I’m the mom that encourages her to fly. I’m pretty proud of myself for nudging her out of the nest. For resisting the impulse to put one hand on my hip while pointing a finger and saying, “You’re not ready. Stay close by. You can’t do this without me.” No – even though I wanted to say that. Even though I thought it at times, my heart knew the truth. It was time for her to fly. She needed to strengthen those wings.
Even though when we left her dorm room in August to drive the six and a half hours home, it was hard. I was falling apart on the inside. Telling myself to be strong. Not to cry in front of her. I didn’t want to upset her. But I don’t think I needed to worry about that. She was calm. She was busy setting up her room. She was ready to cut the apron strings.
And that’s when it really hit me. She can do this.
And that’s when I allowed myself to feel like a really good mom.
I had raised a daughter who felt confident enough to navigate a college experience six and a half hours away, knowing no one. NO ONE. (And she’s an introvert!) Wow – I must have done a pretty good job. (We – I can include my husband and give him some props. Of course, there’s always things that a daughter needs a dad for.)
In fact, I think they’ve grown closer, this year that she’s been away. She texts me to tell me about her latest date, or when she’s stressed or feeling blue.
She texts her dad when her car won’t start, or she is sad because it’s her first holiday away from home and deep inside she knows he will handle it better than her mom will. And he knows just what to say and how to act. All the while helping her realize how loved she is, but how she’s right where she needs to be and she’ll get through it.
Holidays have been my benchmarks this past year. She was home for the biggies – Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I got to visit a couple days before her birthday.
It was the ones that I didn’t really think about. That she didn’t think about, that hit her out of nowhere. Halloween. The Super Bowl. Easter.
I got a call at a Halloween party. Yes, she had plans. Yes, she was crying. She was homesick but didn’t know why. I remember those aches of homesickness. But I was strong. I wanted to cry with her and tell her how much I missed her. Tell her I wish she hadn’t went so far away to college. Tell her I was envious of those moms who had their daughters in the same town, same state. But I didn’t. I sucked it up. I got it together. Somehow I gave encouraging words that I don’t remember or know where they came from. When I told her dad, he immediately got on the phone with her and talked to her privately. Later he told me they didn’t talk about anything deep. She didn’t cry with him. He was just there. He helped her to breathe.
I got a call on Superbowl afternoon. She had just driven back to college after being home for a three week Christmas break. Yes, she had plans. Yes, she was crying. She was homesick. She wished she had waited another day to come back. I knew what was going on. My little girl wanted things to go back to the way they were, but she knew they couldn’t. My job was to help her see that different is just different. It was to help her see all she had, not what she was missing.
I got a text the night before Easter. I thought – here it is. Her meltdown. She is probably fighting homesickness. I’ve got to be strong because I have to help her see that this is all normal and it can be great. But that’s not what the text was. She was asking me what dress she should wear the next day for Easter. It wasn’t going to get above 40 degrees, so she needed to dress warmly. For the past 19 Easters I had played a part in what she wore on that holiday. And usually, it matched something I was wearing. Okay, she’s struggling, but doesn’t want to fall apart. She needs me to be strong. I can do this. I responded by describing a long-sleeved dress I remembered she had.
Her response: But I want to match Andrew.
Of course you do.
She sent me the picture of Andrew’s tie and the outfit she had thought that might match it. The white dress with a navy blazer was perfect for a cold day that also held the promise of spring. She’s got this. She had it figured out. She wasn’t texting for my advice or help, so much as my reassurance. My approval. I was really proud of her that moment, even though I felt like I’d been sucker-punched to the gut.
My husband got the call on Easter, not me. This I think was the hardest. I don’t think she could have handled talking to me at that moment. She needed her sarcastic, goofy, patient dad to bring her back to reality. He didn’t tell me that day what she said because he also knew that I couldn’t handle it. Part of our family was missing on what has always been to me a very special family day. We’ve always matched for goodness sake. So all week long I had been telling myself that seasons change and I would get through this. A new season is just different – and different can actually be great. So Ben kept what she said from me. When he handed me the phone, and I got to talk to her, she sounded fine. Not the homesick girl she had been moments before. She sounded not just fine – she sounded happy. Her holding it together actually helped me. That’s when I realized, she really can handle this. She really is ready to be an adult.
The next day when I commented on how amazed and proud I was that she had gotten through Easter as seamlessly as she had, my husband told me what she had said the day before. “I’m really homesick. I’m missing all of you. This is so hard.”
I’m so glad he was able to answer those comments. I’m so glad it didn’t have to be me. I’m so glad she was smart enough to call her dad. She knew what she needed. She knew what he needed. She knew what I needed.
Knowing that she has matured enough to make the right decision about who to call when she has a particular problem, makes me realize she’s done it. She’s passed the test with flying colors.
I know I’m going to enjoy this summer with her home. When she left us, she was a little unsure, but she had a big dream. She was hoping she had it in her. We were hoping she had it in her. Now we all know – she’s got what it takes.