One by one, the house empties. In a few weeks, Katja will clear all the crap off her bedroom floor and decide what few things she will take to New York University. Maybe in her cluttered room we’ll find some of the hammers and rulers and cups and spoons we’ve been missing for some time now. Her godmother and I will drive a minivan across the country and deposit her at her new residence on Fifth Avenue, up the street from Washington Square.
She will be on the Great Books floor, in a triple with a girl from Illinois and another from Florida. They will share a bathroom with two other girls in their suite. Just imagine — five girls, five shampoo bottles, five conditioner bottles, five bottles of body wash, five scrubbies, and all those towels.
I start crying every time I think of Katja leaving. It wasn’t so long ago on a muggy summer night when I went into labor with her. I wrapped a sheet around myself and paced in the back yard. In the middle of the night she was born in our living room; my postpartum meal was grocery store pizza. I remember when she was one-year-old, bathing with her to cool her fever when she had pneumonia. I remember her first piano recital at age five when her teacher had to put a box between her feet and the floor. I remember when she had long outgrown the family bed, how she would still slip her lanky self in next to me to soothe some sort of middle of the night growing pain.
And now, college, in Greenwich Village no less. Part of me longs to smooth everything over and see that her college experience is perfect. I wish I could choose her friends, take care of her finances, make sure she’s eating well, and help her select her classes. I wish I could read her books and edit her papers. I don’t want her to stumble, get hurt, get lost.
But another part of me says, “Get the broom!” I want to sweep her along, “Hurry, hurry, now, grow up! Get along!”
It’s time for Katja to move out. As children become young adults, they need space to make mistakes and figure out what to do about them. Two days after her recent birthday, Katja crashed our Honda Civic into a pole as she was reversing out of a parking space. Although she hates making business calls and is working full-time at a deli, I made her contact the insurance company, get estimates, and make all the arrangements to get the car fixed, including paying half the deductible. Only out of pity did we spare her from paying the other half.
Recently she took a day off from work to attend the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago. She planned to take the midnight bus back to Milwaukee to get back for work the next day, but alas, she missed the bus. She really wanted to stay another day, figuring she could call in sick, and “borrow” her sister’s 3-day festival pass. I had to muster all my motherly persuasive force to convince her to take the train back to Milwaukee the next morning.
“It’s your duty to work when you’re scheduled,” I insisted, not very convincingly, adding, “You’ll need the money for New York.”
“I have enough saved,” Katja responded, “and why do you have to tell me what to do?”
“Come on, Katja, you’re so close to being on your own,” I chided. “But for now, I’m still responsible for you, and I can’t let you skip work.”
Maybe her employer wouldn’t mind her skipping work. Maybe they’d have a slow day and get by without her, or maybe they’d call in someone who really needed the hours. But I couldn’t bear the thought of my college-bound daughter being so carefree. I really wanted her to suffer, just a little. I wanted her to experience the full spectrum of adulthood — not just the fun of going out, but the burdens and sacrifices that come from being responsible. We need both grounding and flight.
That may have been the last such conversation I’ll have with her, I hope. I’m tired of being “the reminder.” Don’t forget to make a dentist appointment, do your morning chores, call so-and-so, do this-and-that. From here on in, she will determine her own hours, her own spending, and her own use of time and energy. When she misses a deadline, she will pay the consequences. If she doesn’t fulfill responsibilities at a job, she will lose it. She seems grown-up, she looks grown-up, and yet she’s had all her needs covered, and we’ve served as her safety net all these years. Fender-benders, run-ins with the police, sports injuries, we’ve been there for her.
Ultimately, I trust Katja will be fine. I have full confidence in her resourcefulness and ability to adapt, as well as in the natural consequences the universe will provide in lieu of her mother. She will learn how low she can draw down her bank account. She will experience for herself how little sleep she can get away with. She’ll discover where on her list of priorities partying and clubbing will fit. She will, hopefully, figure out how to live harmoniously with four other young women.
I will shed a few tears, kiss her goodbye, come home, and sweep out her room.