A STARTLING ROLE REVERSAL ON COLLEGE DROP-OFF DAY; WHO’S THE BABY NOW?
By Stephanie Ortiz
I’ve achieved new parental status–I survived college drop-off two years in a row, having me believe this year I could be the mom in the room–there’d be no tears and no drop-off blues.
Sadness wasn’t the emotion I felt at this year’s move-in when we unpacked the storage boxes she didn’t want anymore. The pile of what was going back home with us was getting substantially bigger.
-The butterfly folding chair (granted, it’s too big for her room)
-The smiley-faced binder clips (they’re small and ever so cute)
-Our family photos she taped to her wardrobe last year (you see where this is going when she said, “I’d rather put up pictures of my friends.”)
And then there was the doorstopper. My guess was that my daughter wouldn’t be needing that either.
Three hours into the car ride home, I heard from my soul sister, dazed after dropping off her freshman to college the week before. She was feeling it and needed to read something to help her through.
Remembering her pain, I shared with her the muse I had written last year. And here it is to help you, too.
My daughter’s gone to college to start her grand adventure (gulp) without me. I took comfort that Brooke Shields cried, dropping off her daughter at college, and her daughter’s a sophomore, not even a freshman. But who am I kidding? I can’t look that beautiful when I cry.
But Alex always has to be practical when I’m not (we take turns that way; that’s why we’re each other’s better half). So he said, “There must be something more to this; why are you having such a hard time?”
Well, duh, Brooke Shields is having a hard time with it. How’s that? And remember all the mothers on these message boards. They’re discussing whether they should get matching tattoos or puppies to replace the hole in their hearts.
I’m doing fine. Seriously fine. Until I wonder how my daughter’s doing, and it reminds me.
- I don’t know what she’s doing or where she is right at this very minute.
- She’s no longer around.
- My daughter’s childhood is over, and those firsts we experienced together are gone.
- Oh my gosh, she’s no longer my baby.
- My job as a parent has changed, and I didn’t even get a raise or a salary.
- My family doesn’t look or feel the same without her.
- Don’t get me started on the trips to the supermarket. We used to buy her favorite foods, and now we don’t have to.
Do any of those work? Is that why I have this pit in the middle of my chest? Now her room is a time capsule–it’s a piece of art reminding me of the last time I saw her (okay, it was only two weeks ago).
But maybe Alex is right. There could be something more to this. Why’s this so hard?
Feeling broken doesn’t help me be rational enough to answer that question. Once I feel broken, everything around me breaks: the computer, the car, the phone, the TVs. Even the dog’s knee’s giving way to arthritis.
There’s her empty room and no more dorm shopping–nothing to take my mind off the pain. I’d been so hyper-focused on shopping for my daughter’s dorm room that it’s the only thing she can remember I did for her as a parent.
I got through college drop-off, and then I united my free time and creative mojo with Alexandra’s, and damn, if we didn’t send her an 18th birthday care package, that would put anyone on Pinterest to shame.
I said to Alexandra, “Maybe we should start a business.”–My answer to everything I do that’s over the top. Alexandra said if someone wanted to pay us to do this, we’d charge $1,000. Then it would be worth doing it again.
Right. I’ve done enough. There’s nothing left for me to do. But that’s what I’ve always done. Don’t you get it? And I never got paid for any of it, and I still did it. I’d do it repeatedly for the rest of my life and still not ask for a dime.
But suddenly, I feel like I’m pregnant all over again. I have a due date (parents’ weekend), and I have no idea when I’ll get a little kick (the calls when she asks how much medicine to take) or what she’ll look like except for that ultrasound picture (FaceTime once a week).
I dream about what the baby might be like, but now those dreams have become memories. And then the baby’s born, and you’re just a flab of a mess with no idea what to do with yourself.
I’m broken because the delighted baby I could protect and nourish and do everything for turned into an adult I must let go of and stop smothering.
But we unpacked everything into her nursery (I mean dorm room) and made the sterile surroundings cozy. It only took two days to put everything into its new place so she could feel like she had something to resemble home, for my sake, not hers.
Before she knew she’d never spend any time there anyway, she remembered that in my college shopping frenzy, I said, “The number one most important thing is a doorstop so people will come in and say hi.” Instead, we figured she’d prop a shoe against the door, so we didn’t get one.
But the door was heavy and kept shutting. My daughter looked at me–it was her first ask. “Can you buy me that doorstop?”
That’s when the answer to Alex’s question hit me. My job as a parent was to be a doorstop. I propped the door open so my daughter could see the world from a safe place and closed it when she’d had enough. I prided myself on being her gatekeeper.
I grew to appreciate our little cocoon; nothing could harm us. I stopped taking risks (unless you count being in Mamma Mia!, writing this muse, or my latest, taking tap dancing lessons). And they shouldn’t matter because isn’t there more to me than that?
Doorstops are super handy when you need them, but they get in the way when you’ve got to leave. Our adult kids know this about us. We can’t admit it to ourselves. We want to hold the door open a little longer to show our kids the world. It’s such a pretty view. We know what to expect.
What happens when we take away the doorstopper?
Yes, we’re worried about our kids, and if they’ll make friends and ever eat or drink water again, but deep down, we’re concerned about ourselves.
Can we venture out into the world again, like we’re urging our kids? We are to be the example of how to walk through that door and explore what awaits.
But we’re scared. It’s hard to leave our cozy nests. It’s hard when our adult kids don’t need us to block them–and nothing’s standing in our way, either.
So, ironically, I bought my daughter a doorstopper, so she’s the gatekeeper of her life now. She has a safe place to venture out into the world and a cozy place to come home to. And now she can prop the door open when she needs a little company.
My daughter no longer needs me to hold her back. It’s the most challenging part of motherhood–letting go. I should be celebrating my promotion, and I will, but meanwhile, I need to figure out how to be a role model on the off chance that she calls me.
And now I’m crying.
You see, when I asked Skylar about that doorstopper, she said, “I want to keep that.”
Did I really think being angry at my daughter was going to get me off the hook from crying?
Apparently. Our tears are universal when we’re dropping off our kids at college, we just can’t predict when they’ll fall.
And doorstops, don’t get me started.