Her smile is different. Her laugh sounds unfamiliar. I’m not sure when it happened. I think it started with her new found independence. The time she’s away from me. Her new life. I listen to the stories about her friends in each room on her dorm floor. It is almost as if I’m watching a soap opera, or a short documentary. And when she talks about these people that I have never met, she sparkles. Is it possible to sparkle, or light up when describing people or telling stories? It’s her life. It is about absorbing the relationships around her; and guarding them. She is kind when she talks about them; like they are in her heart. She is strong about them; like they are her ‘family’. We get in the elevator with a tall man-child. They talk about daily events like they are old-time friends, who are reconnecting. It is then that I realized that things are different. I am no longer responsible for her decisions or her friendships. I used to find mothers on the playground and exchange numbers to set up play dates. I would watch children at school, that I thought looked like they would be a good friend, and encourage relationships between my children. I did everything possible as a mother to make sure that MY children weren’t the ones that were left out, or the last to be picked for a team, or the ones who sat alone on the bus. I did everything possible to teach them how to make friends and be good people. I still tell them the same phrase when they get out of my car each day; “Be a friend to someone who doesn’t have a friend”, so that they know how important kindness, and integrity, and loyalty is in life. And you hope that these things ‘stick’. You hope that these are tools that they use in some aspect of their lives. Then you find yourself sitting next to your adult child and you listen; and reflect; and hear what they are truly saying between the words that are coming out of their mouth. That is when you realize how much they are watching you; when you’re driving to the grocery store, or you’re talking to a store employee; when you are with your friends, and when you are with complete strangers. It starts when they are babies. They learn about life through your actions. They learn how to care and how to live. She tells me stories about Room 204, or Room 508, or Room 345. She’s involved in a world that consists of 8 floors and 800 beds. It is her neighborhood. A boy goes by on a skateboard and she can tell me little snippets about whom he is and what he’s studying and where he is from. She knows the ‘secret’ doors to go in. She walks in the building with a sense of homecoming that I can feel inside myself. There is calmness about being there for her. Inside her dorm room she tells me things about her roommate like a mother that speaks of her own child. She describes things that her roommate likes, or doesn’t like. For instance, she says, “Don’t move Sarah’s chocolate, that is the only thing she is crazy about”. She has cabinets that hold ‘their’ cleaning supplies, ‘their’ lotions, and ‘their’ stuff. Her world. And I discovered that she knows how to do laundry, and make reservations, and fix her car, and pay debts, and replace ink, and schedule meetings. She has friends from all over the country and all over the world. She is excited about new classes and old friendships. She has friends with cancer and friends with struggles. She has sorority ‘families with ‘bigs’, and ‘littles’, and ‘grandbigs’, and ‘sisters’. She has friends on drugs and friends in trouble. She has friends ‘going nowhere’ and friends ‘on top of the world’. She has Monday night Chapter meetings and Friday night fraternity parties. We drive by restaurants and she tells me their menu or their wait times. We drive by buildings and she can tell me someone that lives in it or something about it. We enter the bookstore and she tells me that she likes to wander around here because she likes how it feels. And there are names I never heard before, like Alexa, or Celeste, or Simone; like Tiffany, or Jeremy. When she talks I watch her. She lights up. There is a sparkle and a driving force behind her words. I realize that parents set the stage. We lay the foundation. We give the initial pushes; like one foot in front of the other. Then the momentum gets going. The wheel starts spinning; like a snowball rolling down a hill. It starts off small, gathering as it goes. It rolls on and on until, before you know it, it has doubled in size. It grabs its surroundings as it’s rolling on. It takes what it needs. Some things stick to it and some things don’t. Then you find yourself sitting next to your child and listening to their outlook on life and friendships and experiences and you see that your words and actions have stuck. They are officially young people out in a great big world. And they are surviving. They know how to shop at the grocery store, and schedule an appointment, and fill out papers, and foster friendships, and care for other people. And all you can do as a parent is sit back and watch. I find my mind wandering when she is talking. I find myself watching her mouth and looking at her mannerisms when she is telling me her stories. I think to myself that this is a person that I would choose as a friend, if I didn’t know her. I watch her and I think, “what a cool person”. So my car, and hers, is full of what she brought home for the holidays. Her ‘stuff’. The final load is in the washing machine. She is still asleep. My last couple hours with the family intact. I am extra quiet this morning as to not awake her, because I know what it means when she starts her day. She, we, will drive 14.8 miles to a neighborhood, a ‘family’, a room, a building, with 800 people that get to see her every day. It doesn’t get any easier. She has an apartment starting this summer. She has no reason to stay at home anymore. Her breaks and vacations will be spent visiting home, but not staying home. And this makes me sad. But I am also happy for her life at the same time. I have so many friends and family members that have small children. I watch them playing and I think that someday they will be living on their own and paving their own paths. It happens in an instance. There are so many children that we have met in our lives that have passed away, got sick, lost their path from drugs or alcohol, had families broken up, got pregnant, that have started their lives as the little teary-eyed kindergartener in circle time with my children. It happens. Life can take a sharp turn that you don’t expect. Here’s a quote that sums it up, ““I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn't.” Don’t you wish you could freeze it? Time? She’s asleep now. I just went in her room and rubbed her arm. She is so soft and familiar. She awakes and I ask her if there are any last minute things she wants me to do for her. She says, “no mom, but thanks”. And I know that those 4 little words mean more than they convey. When she wakes up she will put her foot on the floor and then out into the world again. For now, I let her sleep in MY world, in OUR home, before she goes.
- ► 2011 (11)