I just returned home after dropping my 19-year-old daughter off at college. My oldest daughter, the person who made me a mother and brought magic into my life.
I was 16 when I lost my mother. There is so much I missed out on experiencing with her. Becoming a mother after losing mine early on in life was a fundamental shift in my own experience. My daughter's presence always felt magical to me. She is an artist with a profoundly tender soul, her depth as a human being made our connection powerful.
Her father and I separated when she was two and half years old. From that point on, she and I became a singular unit taking on the world together. We took many trips – Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Portugal, Oregon, and California. She was my travel companion, my adventurer. The kind of kid that would go with the flow.
Because of the divorce and our split schedule, my time with her always felt precious. Time was a commodity, a valuable entity that I was very conscious of slipping away. She was connected to me, and I to her. She leaned into my nurture and love and, in turn, taught me grace. All her interests and passions we shared, from anime to animals.
She did not rebel in high school and always wanted to be close to me. When she turned 16, the age when I lost my mother, we reached a pivotal point in our relationship. Because I had no experience of what mothering looked like past 16, I questioned if I knew how to parent beyond that point in her life. She was always conscious of my experience. So much so that on Mother's Day, the year she turned 16, she made me a beautiful diorama type box that said, "We face the future together." Her gift epitomizes our connection, our relationship, and the way in which we care for each other.
As parents, we try to prepare for what we know is inevitable. I knew she would go away to school, and throughout her senior year, I continually reminded us both. We talked about it over and over. My mantra was she would leave, and I would be fine.
She was going to school in Michigan and always envisioned this big, fun, traditional journey to college. I did not want to do the drive, but how could I say no. In hindsight, I am so grateful we took the adventure together as it turned out to be incredibly special. We were able to be fully present one-on-one, having left everyone else behind. I made a playlist for her; she made a playlist for college. I felt emotional; she felt excited.
We drove the first half from New York to Pittsburgh and listened to music the entire time. We sang in the car and let our voices and the songs guide us. The second half of the trip was different; I tried to be incredibly present and just enjoy the time. I did not want to lecture her about any topics parents like to warn their children about. We were simply together on a road trip, having fun.
We had conversations about my family, mom, college experiences, and when I left home to go to school. Our time was uninterrupted by all of life's distractions, and the memory of this pure togetherness is something I now hold very close to my heart.
When we arrived, we had a few days to explore. Our first time in Ann Arbor, where she would move for four years, was both exciting and nerve-wracking for us both.
You simply cannot emotionally prepare for it; that deep hollow feeling of sadness you are left to sort through on your own.
We went to restaurants and walked around, exploring this beautiful new place she would soon call home. One night at dinner, I drank a lot of Sake trying to calm my nerves, and started talking to her about sex and relationships. She's emotionally mature but incredibly naive and inexperienced. I knew she would soon be on her own, making complex social and emotional decisions. She was open to the conversation – I thought she'd be horrified. So, I took the time to remind her to own her power. I had this nagging feeling I needed to pack in as much advice as possible at that moment.
The next day was her move into the dorm. Once everything was in her room, I offered to stay and help her settle in, but she said no. She felt she needed to sort and settle alone.
So, I left, feeling sort of numb. But, since I am a doer, I needed to do something at that moment. I decided to drive to Target and get a thousand unnecessary things I knew she did not need, but I felt she might miss. Up and down the aisles, I cried bursts of tears, grabbing random items, letting myself lose it entirely.
That night we went out to dinner with her roommate, and I took her out to breakfast the following day. By that point, she and I were both ready; we knew it was time to say goodbye.
I sobbed at the airport and on the plane and then came home and felt gutted, empty. You simply cannot emotionally prepare for it; that deep hollow feeling of sadness you are left to sort through on your own.
I tracked her phone for a while, but I don't do it very often anymore. She has been communicative, and I have heard and read to give them space during this time. She sends me videos showing me her artwork or her process or her amazing new ballroom dancing skills. She still loves to get that mama affirmation. It's beautiful, and I love it.
I try not to text her all the time, but then I find reasons to text her. Knowing she's obsessed with clothes, I will text her a random question, "what do you think about these shoes?" knowing she will respond. And when she does, I know she's alright, which is all I care about.
I'm always going to be her mother. And I'm always going to mother and nurture her and do all the things mothers should do. But now I can step back. The other day I checked her bank account and saw she had $3 left. In stepping back, I had to remind myself not to give her money. I already gave her money; she has a budget that she will need to figure out how to manage.
There is this process of trusting that I am trying to lean into now. I gave my daughter the skills to be an empowered woman, a doer who can solve her own problems. Now I must figure out how to not enable or force any kind of learned helplessness on her.
I will visit her in two weeks, and I'm so excited to see how she has settled into her new home. She can show me all her spaces and places, I can meet her friends. Suddenly, I am in a new role, taking the passenger seat on the road trip of her life. As it turns out, Michigan is not as far as I thought.