My social media feed is filled with sad posts from parents who have taken their children back to college after winter break. My own daughter returned to Temple University this past weekend. Our cat, sensing that one of us would soon be gone, did what he always does in these situations: Right before she left, he barfed on the rug. Then he got himself locked in the hall closet, although none of us can figure out how.
Well, I feel the same way.
My daughter is a sophomore, and when she first left for college, all of it was a grand adventure. I focused on that and on her, wanting to make sure she was OK in her first year away from home and also happy with her school choice. I was on message about the wonderful experiences that surely awaited her, but also the mundane. If her days didn’t always live up to her expectations, I said, that didn’t mean she was at the wrong school. Relax and enjoy.
It’s a message I also had preached to both my kids about high school. Don’t believe the hype, I told them. Find your path and enjoy it. At Temple, my daughter did. When I returned at the end of the year with her brother and cousin to retrieve some of her belongings before the First Summer Home, I was so proud of how she chose a restaurant for our dinner, helped us navigate the subway there and, in short, acted like she owned that city.
Which is exactly why her sophomore year has hit me so hard. I have stopped worrying now that this college thing is a totally a go, and since my mom anxiety can stand down, it has allowed other emotions to surface.
I just miss her. She came home two weeks early for winter break because she had mono. Even sick, she breezed into the house like the force she is — loud, enthusiastic, goofy and always ready to mobilize an effort for something. So much so that I felt claustrophobic at first. How did three of us ever live in this little rowhouse?
There was not enough room for her sweaters alone or her books or all of us in the kitchen at one time. Her hair products crowded the shower. At the store, I had to remember to buy soy milk and veggie burgers again, which then crowded the refrigerator.
Recovering, she slept for 13 or 14 hours at a time and then awoke to complete school papers or read Michelle Obama’s memoir or eventually go to the gym and do household chores. She is incapable of washing any dish without a stern reminder but cleaned out the entire hall closet. Finally better and bored, she came to work with me and tracked down all the calendar photos for this magazine.
I was back to mothering times two. It was exhausting, and sometimes I wanted my space back, but it was also loud and fun and at times poignant, particularly as I watched my two kids share secrets or advice with each other.
She is doing well and to continue like this means continuing to spin farther away from this cocoon of a home I’ve created. That is the way this works. When they visit, our children give us glimpses of their world, and for that time, we can cheer, cry and conspire with them. Then they must go, and if I were to follow my own advice, I now must find my own path and enjoy it.