By Lisa Sugarman
For the last three weeks, I’ve been writing, firsthand, about the emotional path we travel as parents when we send our first child off to college. I’ve been chronicling how every part of the process feels—the highs, the lows, and everything in between. This is the third and final column in the series. I guess you can call it the Afterword.
Words are amazing little tools. Most of the time, they enable us to communicate our innermost thoughts and feelings with almost pinpoint accuracy. Unfortunately, there are also times, like now, when the right words elude us. When we can’t find a way to articulate how we feel, no matter how many thesauruses we use. For me, this is one of those times.
So in the interest of trying to be as authentic as I can here and give you a true peephole into my heart, the rest of my column are the most emotional highlights from The Drop Off. It’s the best way I can express how it all felt.
5:30am on Move-In Day…
For God’s sake, why, of all things, did this month’s birth control packet have to become my countdown calendar to when Riley goes to college? The last pill in the damn cycle falls on the exact day we take her to school. So this is how I’ve been counting down the days all month. I mean, really?! It’s almost too ironic.
I’m lucky I have all this packing and unpacking to focus on, because without anything to distract my thoughts right now, I’d be screwed.
Breathe. Just breathe.
Dave: “If I slashed all four tires, do you think she’d suspect anything?”
Me: “A little too conspicuous, honey. Good effort, tho.”
Oh God, she’s about to say goodbye to the dog. This is not going to go well.
Me: “I can’t look at her, Dave. If I look at her or open my mouth, I’m gonna lose it.”
Dave: “I know. Why do you think I keep avoiding her?”
Libby: “Mom, are you ok?”
Me: (No response.)
Libby: “You’re ok, mom. It’s gonna be ok. You still have me for another three years.”
Me: “I know, honey. (Sniff)
Dave: “Lis, you ok?”
Me: (No response. Just tears.)
Dave: “I’m dreading going home.”
Me: “I know. I don’t want to see that she’s not there.”
Dave: “I hate this.”
Me: “I know. It’s brutal. It’s like someone hit me in the stomach with a telephone pole.”
Dave: “Uh, hon, we only need a table for three.”
Dave: “We’re gonna be ok.”
Me: “I know. But I don’t like what’s between here and ok. All I want is her wet towel back on the bathroom floor. I just want to trip over her lying on the kitchen floor after cross country practice, spooning the dog. I want to bitch at her for always having her door locked. I want to wait up until she gets home.
I miss her smelling like popcorn every weekend when she comes home from her shift at the video store. I miss cleaning up the wigs worth of hair that covers the bathroom floor every morning. I miss our Tuesday night ritual of watching Pretty Little Liars, cuddled up under the covers in my bed. I miss cooking and shopping and doing laundry for four. I miss knowing who she’s with. I miss knowing what she’s doing.
I want to know that she’s safe. I want to hug her whenever I feel like it. I don’t want to keep avoiding her empty room.
I also want her to be happy. I want her to get on with her life so she can come back to me and gush about where she’s been and what she’s done and who she’s met. I want her to embrace her future. I want her to do what the dean of her university said at her matriculation ceremony—I want her to explore and embrace and play every single key on the piano while she has the chance.”
So while I’d love to lie to you and say that letting her go was relatively painless, like ripping off a Band-Aid really fast, I can’t. Because it wasn’t. Escorting my daughter out the door and onto the rest of her life was the single most difficult thing I’ve done yet as a parent. But at the very same time, it was also the most beautiful. It was bittersweet and just barely doable. Barely.
But we do, eventually, hit solid ground. I’m sure of it. And when we do, we get to turn around and watch them ride their own beautiful wave into shore. And I’m looking forward to that. Very forward.
In the meantime, enjoy the ride, babe. I’ll be waiting with open arms.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.