And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
My daughter Olivia left for college yesterday. I use the word “left” lightly – her college is about 20 minutes down the road. She’ll be coming home every other weekend to work. Thanks to Facebook and texting and other ways of staying in contact, I will likely still be talking to her every day, at least for a while.
But still, she left.
Olivia is my fourth child. Well, technically, she’s my fifth, because I miscarried a baby at 12 weeks gestation before I became pregnant with Olivia. I never know quite how to count that little one. But I am grateful to him – somehow, both Michael and I know he was male – for stepping aside and giving the space to Olivia.
There is a significant age difference between Olivia and my three big kids. Christopher was 16 when Olivia was born, Andy 14, Katie 13. Christopher and Katie attended college at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, about an hour away, and my own alma mater. When I left each of them for the first time, I cried all the way home, and wandered the house aimlessly for days afterwards. Andy tried college at the University of Wisconsin – Waukesha, but found it just wasn’t his thing. He already had a part-time job, so he asked for full-time, got it, and moved out of the house to his own apartment. I remember that leave-taking too. While he and others unloaded the van, I put a comforter on his bed, set up lamps, put away dishes neatly in cupboards, hung things on the wall. Making a home for my boy who was no longer at home.
And now, Oliva. It’s an adjustment when your child lives under a roof that isn’t yours. Olivia was a by-my-side child from the get-go. With the first three, I was primarily a stay-at-home mom. With Olivia, I hadn’t created AllWriters’ yet when she was born, but I was up and teaching, approximately 65 hours a week. I drove myself the hospital, I drove myself home, and then went to pick up her sister at dance class. I was on the computer within an hour of Olivia’s birth, checking on my classes. Olivia spent her early days in a little seat in the middle of my classroom table and she was passed around when she fussed. When I started the studio, she had a special place in a room off the classroom, with her toys, drawing supplies, a television, a VCR, a Little Tykes train set. She called the studio Mama’s Building. Eventually, we bought the live-where-you-work condo, which means my business is on the first floor and we live on the second and third. I was simultaneously mom and business owner, a hybrid of the working mom. I was at work, but I was at home, and Olivia was right there.
And now she’s at college and I’m here. It’s as it should be. The natural order of things.
Yesterday, we arrived in her dorm and found her room, a blank slate with a bed, desk, dresser, refrigerator and microwave. By the time we left, almost ten hours later, it was Olivia’s room. There were VW Beetle posters on the wall (and a white VW Beetle named Snowbug in the parking lot). There was a bright pink-spackled comforter on the bed, pink tables holding her television and CD player (she prefers CDs – so do I). Her pink music stand was set up, there was a pink flamingo piñata devoid of candy hanging from the slanted roofline, her instruments were carefully stored in her closet. Pink towels, red carpet. Pink bungee chair bed, mottled and fuzzy pink footstool. Plants on the windowsill and on her desk. And you can’t forget the blow-up green alien with a mustache who seemed to just bop around the room, not really settled in any spot yet.
And of course, Olivia was in the room, which made it the Olivia-est.
Before we drove away, I waited in the parking lot and watched her walk back to the dorm. I watched her go until she disappeared. And I cried.
But we talked last night, via the miracle of Facebook. She told me she was going to bed around ten, but then chattered until 11:15, at which point I reminded her she had orientation at 8:30.
She said, “I wanna text you. Well, Mama, I miss you. It feels really odd being on my own.”
And I said immediately, as I always have, from every moment since the day I went on the computer an hour after her birth, her sleeping in the little isolette by my side, “I am right here. I am always right here.”
Do you know how to tell if you’ve been a good parent? It’s something I’ve worried about since day one. It’s not about the kids’ accomplishments. It’s that they don’t want to be rid of you. Even as they move ahead, as they should.
I am always right here. So is she. All four of them are.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.