Wave after wave laps the shore as I recline for another afternoon nap under the shade of a palm tree on Waikiki beach, essentially the home of my firstborn for the next four years. There are definitely some college perks I’m thoroughly enjoying! Thanks to WUE, the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, my daughter is attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa for the price of in-state tuition. She figured this out long ago and because I’ve raised her to be an independent, strong, adventure-seeking individual, she made it happen. My husband and I merely watched from the sidelines as she polished up her wings. She’s always been our self-cleaning oven.
It’s bittersweet, really. We hope for our children to experience a colorful life, but it typically comes at the cost of something—in our case, it’s long-distance, hence her Netherlands study abroad during junior year of high school. Unfortunately, COVID butchered that experience midway, so it makes sense for her to branch out again, only this time in the opposite geographical direction, yet still a seven-hour flight away.
I suppose one could say this is an example of life coming full circle. I did this to my mother 25 years ago when I exuberantly announced my boyfriend and I would be moving to Wyoming for his graduate school. I may as well have punched her in the gut, as this was how she took the news. And for the following 20 years, she provided me with subtle, passive-aggressive guilt.
Ironically, I now fully understand how my mom felt. Her only girl, the one she closely laughed, cooked, cried and went shopping with was leaving her and it hurt. It really, really hurts. However, unlike my mother, I vow to push the pain deep down and encourage my girl to explore. I’ve helped nurture and cultivate those wings; it’s high time for her to use them properly.
After a week of surfing, ocean gazing, beach naps, seafood feasts and island jaunts, the inevitable time came to deliver my daughter to her dorm. The anxiety within me started early that day; I awoke at 5 am with an uncomfortable knot in my stomach but needed to focus on the task ahead. After we hauled the bags which contained my daughter’s world to the room, the unpacking and decorating began. Once we created a space she could call her own, we took her out for a lovely lunch. Unfortunately, we needed to catch our flight home soon after. The walk to her dorm felt endless as I tried to absorb all that surrounded us, all that she’d be experiencing without me.
On her fluffy new comforter, I embraced her like I haven’t in years and whispered in her ear, “I love you and know you will do great things. Goodbye, my love.”
I didn’t/couldn’t look back—I had to keep walking out the door, out of the building as the water works were coming and there was no controlling it. I put my enormous, movie star sunglasses on and allowed the tears to flow freely as I walked to the car, drove to the airport, returned the rental, navigated the airport terminal, and ultimately my airplane seat. At that point, I needed to take the sopping wet sunglasses off and face the world without my daughter. I wasn’t completely ready yet, so I drank a solid amount of wine and slept like the dead for seven hours.
Upon my return, I noticed Facebook was flooded with decorated dorm room pics and teary-eyed parents as friends and family provided words of support and wisdom. Mothers gathered for “sip and sobs” to mourn the loss of a child to college. Some were empty-nesters, others now turning their tear-streaked faces and attention to the child(ren) still at home. A reminder that our job as parents is not done; there is much molding, shaping and tending to do—more wings to develop.
It’s been several weeks since drop off and I’ve found the social media channels I’ve questioned and avoided for years have become my lifeline for learning about my daughter’s day-to-day world. We text often and she’s required to answer the phone if we call, unless she’s surfing, of course. Although, I’m considering inventing a surfboard with wifi capabilities.
I like to believe we learn from every experience we have in life. Not only is it time to focus more on my teenage son (I’m certain he’s elated about this:), but also on myself. I still have wings that could use a tune-up; I have personal goals that have not been met. As much as I want to curl up on the couch and binge-watch “Gilmore Girls” at times, I have plans for the extra time her absence affords me. Just like my daughter, I am ready to take flight.