And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
This past Sunday, I drove my daughter Olivia back to her college for her junior year. This is the third time now that I’ve rented a van, helped my husband pile all her stuff inside, and watched her in the rearview as she followed me in her shiny white VW Bug to her home away from home. The packing has become easier every year, as we figured out just what we needed – last spring, Olivia found some great heavy duty blue bags with zipper closures that carried the majority of her stuff. Michael likened the loading of the van to playing a successful game of Tetris: all the pieces just slid in and tucked together, until nothing had the chance to shift and break. At the school, we knew exactly where her room was, we knew the COVID protocol, we got our cart, and, Tetris-like again, we got her unloaded in two trips. Because she’s had the same room for all three years, it was easy to return the furniture back the way she liked it. She said she could do her own decorating. She walked us back to the van, kissed us goodbye, and we were gone. I was sad, but this year, I didn’t cry.
Olivia is my fourth child to have send-offs. Christopher and Katie attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Katie went on to grad school in Tallahassee, Florida – that’s the furthest anyone went away to school. Then she returned to Wisconsin to earn her PhD in math at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Andy went for a year to our own UW – Waukesha, but when he decided school wasn’t for him, his send-off was to a full-time job and his own apartment in town. All of the send-offs were hard. And all were exciting too. My kids were becoming who they wanted to be.
But with Olivia being the last, my baby, though they’re all my babies, and with her high-functioning autism, there was a difference. I’ve not only been her mother, but her advocate. And suddenly, I wasn’t allowed to be. She was an adult. I was supposed to step back. I felt like the school allowed me to drop my daughter off, and then they tossed me out the massive double wooden doors and latched them tight,
I’ve still wiggled my way back in there, when necessary. There is no stopping Mama! I don’t believe in throwing the child off the dock to learn how to swim. That’s not a learning experience. That’s swim or die. I will always be there to lift my kids up.
The first time I dropped Olivia off for school, oh, was it hard. But we unloaded, set up her room, helped her decorate, went to a couple Welcome To School events, and then we drove off. I watched her again in my rearview mirror as she walked by herself back to the dorm.
And then, a few hours later, we were talking to each other on Facebook Messenger. The time got later and later. Eventually, I reminded her that she had an early orientation the next day, her first official college event, and she needed to get to sleep.
She said that she knew. And then she typed, “I just wanna text you. Well, Mama, I miss you. It feels really odd being on my own.”
My daughter missed me.
And now here we are, in her third year. A Tetris year, where everything we’ve done, we’ve done before, as we’ve learned how to get our daughter to school, to a room that feels like home, to a place where she can learn everything she wants to learn. To a place where she can become an adult.
That night, we talked on Facebook Messenger again. She showed me how she decorated her room, how she hung some new lights, how so very Olivia this room looked. I reminded her of her message to me, on that first night away at school, that very night after I dropped her off and watched as she grew smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror.
She answered, “And it still feels odd being on my own, even two years later.”
I answered her just the way I did before, the way I will always answer her, the way I will always answer any of my children. “As I said then, and I’ll always say it, I am right here. I am always right here.”
She said, “I know, Mama.”
My heart was so full.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.