All last year, I dreaded my older daughter’s departure from our home. I painstakingly noted every “last” — her last birthday at home, her last time driving the car. I wept in anticipation of how terribly empty the house would feel without her. I wrung my hands and waited to suffer.
Then we took her to college in August, two thousand miles away. She was anxious to go and get started with her new life. Our goodbye was not sentimental, drawn out, or deeply heartfelt — she waved and said “Bye, Mom” very quickly, and then literally ran up the stairs into her dorm. She was gone.
I thought it was going to be unbearable, but I was wrong. We have shifted and settled into a different and not altogether unpleasant way of life. For the first few weeks, my college girl was calling multiple times a day, emailing. We were Facebook friends. She updated us on all the little details of her new life — her first crew practices, her first classes. It was great.
And then, communication dropped off. She didn’t respond to emails for what seemed like an eternity (maybe it was … two or three days?). She didn’t respond to text messages, or call back. And … she de-friended me on Facebook! All of my enthusiastic “hi there!” instant-messages must have been, um, getting on her nerves. She disappeared into that shiny, new, independent life of hers and I was left to toss and pace.
Meanwhile, our own new life, back at the homestead, was remarkably … quiet. And uncomplicated. It turns out that the logistics of four peoples’ schedules are simpler and more straightforward than five. One child in high school, ONE back-to-school night, one after-school schedule is (surprise!) easier than two. The ever-present tension between “who gets what they need now, and who has to wait” evaporated. We’d been living with that normal sibling back-and-forth for the past thirteen years. Finally, it just got a whole lot less complicated.
At first, our older girl said she wouldn’t be coming home for Thanksgiving. We have relatives in her college town, and she’d gotten loads of invitations from new friends, plus it is expensive to fly from here to there, and, well, maybe it just wasn’t necessary. But around mid-October, it started feeling more necessary. On both ends. I couldn’t imagine Thanksgiving without her, and she began to crave home. When she called and said, “Do you think it would be possible to get me a ticket?” there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. Maybe she wanted more connection than we’d thought.
A few weeks ago, when life was busier than usual, around the election, I got a stern text message from her. “Mom, you haven’t blogged in over a week!” I was taken aback. I really was not aware that she read, or cared much about my blog. “I’m your daughter! I have to know what’s going on! How else am I going to keep up with you?” WELL. That was a new twist on things.
“I think we should have a family blog,” she said. “And everybody in the family needs to write in it, like every day. Or as much as they can.” In a matter of minutes I had gone to WordPress and set up the family blog. We’ll see about this, I thought.
But she is now our most consistent and prolific blogger. Her writing is incredibly funny and detailed and interesting, telling us about the minutiae of her recent ergometer test (rowing machine), of how she loves her Japanese discussion class, and the first snow. Her communications are a hundred times more detailed and deeper than they ever were in high school. And we blog back, about our mundane lives without her: the drama of the neighbor dog pooping yet again on our driveway; the time that I took my mother to the local sandwich shop and she encountered the infamous Sandwich Guy who barks out ingredients over the counter. She told him she wanted a BLT, but when he yelled, “Tomato!” she shook her head no, and again when he asked if she wanted lettuce. When he shouted “pickles!” she said yes, because she likes them. And thus ended up, somewhat flustered, with a BP (bacon and pickle) sandwich. That story made it into the family blog, along with my husband’s musings about the economy, the election, his work life, and the sunrise during his bike ride.
It’s been an amazing journey, this learning to live without our newly adult daughter who just voted in her first election, two thousand miles away. We read the accounts of her searching for her first home, for next year, of meeting with landlords (already?) and inspecting hardwood floors and dining-rooms-turned-bedrooms. She’s growing up at dizzying speed, but she’s happy, happy, happier than we’ve ever seen her. This girl has been pushing toward independence ever since she was two years old, and wrenching herself away from us who would deign to hold her back.
We’re not holding her back any more. We’re cheering her from afar, missing her, yes, but also enjoying her deeply, feeling proud and glad for all she is experiencing. It was a joyful thing to meet her at the airport and bring her home last week.
Thanksgiving has always been a happy, warm holiday for us — we have our favorite dishes and traditions: grilling the turkey outside (and once mistakenly basting it with dish soap instead of olive oil, a story that will make us laugh for generations), making sweet potato casserole and pecan pie, and two kinds of stuffing. The girls and their cousins make glittery handprint turkey nametags for everyone at the table, and after dinner, we laugh until crying over a game of Balderdash. But this year held a special joy we’ve never experienced before — the anticipation of homecoming, of waiting for one we haven’t realized how much we missed, until the door opened and here she came, our girl who went out into the world and returned for her piece of family pie.
12 replies on “Homecoming”
Susan, what a wonderful–and reassuring–column this is. We’re about to send out #1 off in January, and this gives me all kinds of hope.
Oh, I love this, Susan. The last sentence brings tears to my eyes, really quickly and sharply, as if you’ve taught your reader too how precious this moment is, of your girl coming through the door.
WONDERFUL! I loved this. Thank you…
I loved this, too! When your daughter came through the door, I cried. I think about her, the lovely flower girl at my wedding (how old was she then, four? five?)and I feel both joy and disbelief at the thought of her as an independent woman. She’s a wayshower for my daughter (as you are for me). Thanks for sharing this special moment, Susan.
This is a great story, Susan! Which brings to mind…our daughter is only 14 and a freshman in high school. She surprised me the other day when she gave me her list of 5 colleges she is considering. Then, she showed me photos on the internet. I had to sit down.
“This girl has been pushing toward independence ever since she was two years old…” What a wonderful ability to put this stepping into the world within the context of the child you know as your daughter. All change is hard, but letting go is so very hard. You give us all hope we will be as strong and open as you have been with your girl.
Susan, I love this. Our son is only 12, but already i have been worrying about how I am going to feel about his going off to college–and this was so reassuring and so beautifully written, too. Thank you so much for writing this–what a blessing to know they still are part of the family.
By the way, your last sentence is a knockout.
Once again, you hit the bittersweet spot. What a wonderful piece, Susan.
when is some editor with brains going to realize a Life in the Sandwich coffee table book would make the most awesomest Mother’s Day gift phenom evah?
I love this column as well. It’s very poignant to me as I have a daughter who is a junior in high school. I’m encouraged by your experiences. Thanks for sharing.
I really enjoyed reading this, Susan. As others have said, it takes away some of the anxiety and sadness in me about what our family will be facing twice in the coming few years. It’s not an end, I now understand better thanks to you, but another beginning.
Susan, like everyone else, that last sentence choked me up. The whole piece made me want to sit down and ask you a lot of questions about parenting. What a sign of your and your husband’s success that your daughter has been building her own independence since she was two! Thank you for always expanding and explaining family in a world that really doesn’t get it enough, for as much as it talks about family values.
How fabulous! The first year I was away at college and my little sister was still at home, she teased me endlessly about how often I called home. I kept it up for years though, and eventually returned to Austin. I wish we’d been able to have a family blog in the 90s, it sounds like a great solution!