It was a day unlike any other day, that is, if you don’t count the parts where my emotions got the best of me; that seems to be a daily occurrence lately.
I took my daughter and a friend of hers on our first college visit yesterday, and thank goodness her friend was there to cushion the blow because I’m not sure I could’ve held it together otherwise; I still didn’t do a very good job of ‘holding it’ together per se. Anyway, having her friend there to share the experience was a welcomed distraction and watered down the significance of the trip in a way.
At the start of our 2 hour drive, I pretended I was just taking them on vacation or to the shopping mall. (It actually wouldn’t be all that unusual for my daughter and me to drive 2 hours away to shop).
When we left the house I was still in good spirits (again, we were just going to the mall and not visiting my daughter’s future home away from home) and so, when we stopped at the convenience store on our way out of town, I was eager to make the most of the girls’ experience. After they each grabbed their donuts, I watched them turn to the cooler that housed all the cold Starbucks drinks; neither of them had to say anything because I could read their minds and so I offered cheerfully, “You guys can get Starbucks drinks if you’d like!” Her friend turned to me in shock and said excitedly “Really? My mom never lets me get these! – Sorry friend’s mom, if you’re reading this. Again, because I was in such high spirits I replied, “Life is too short, you should enjoy every minute of it!” This statement actually had absolutely nothing to do with letting the girls get Starbucks drinks and everything to do with the fact that I only have one year left before my life and entire existence will cease to be as I’ve known it for the past 17 years and I still have no idea how I’m ever going to cope.
I spent the next 2 hours of trip inside my head, struck by the reminder of just how short life is and how quickly it all passes by. The more I thought about the future, the grouchier I got.
An hour into the trip I had to stop at a gas station to use the restroom and returned to the car a completely different person, kind of like how Clark Kent disappears inside the phone booth and comes back out as Superman, except this was more like the Jekyll and Hyde version in which I went into the bathroom as June Cleaver and came back out as mommy dearest. When I got back inside the car my daughter (who was totally unaware of the change that had taken place inside the restroom) politely asked in a cheery tone “Can we listen to Nicki Minaj?” Feeling overwhelmed and suddenly despondent, I snapped back with an adamant “NO!” Of course my daughter wasn’t going to take this as my final answer, so she asked again and again, seeking an explanation for refusing what probably seemed to her like a fairly innocuous request, which only aggravated me more and led to the inevitable “Goddammit! If you don’t stop, I’ll turn the car around and go home!” (a proud moment indeed). Seemingly unfazed by the empty threat, (the result of overuse) she met the challenge with a “Fine. Let’s go home.” Truthfully, that’s exactly what I wanted to do because I knew in exactly one hour I’d be face to face with the reality I’ve been trying to ignore for as long as I can remember – smack dab in the middle of the one thing I’ve dreaded for years and it was in that moment that I was suddenly struck with the realization that this time next year I would be making this same trip with my daughter, except she won’t be coming back with me.
In an effort to cope, I turned the music off altogether for all of us to suffer in silence for the remainder of the trip; if I wasn’t going to enjoy this experience, none of us were! (My go-to coping mechanism by the way, which is to abruptly shut down and stubbornly pout in my misery). Needless to say, I’m pretty sure at this point the earlier Starbucks offering had lost all its value and the title I’d previously earned as the “cool mom who splurges on cool coffee drinks” and says stuff like “life’s too short, you have to enjoy every minute of it” was more than likely replaced with the title of “psycho mom who sucks all of the fun out of life and takes everyone down with her – if it sucks for me, by George, it’s going to suck for you too!” Thankfully, the universe was still on my side as we arrived at our destination when it offered me the one last ditch effort that I was desperate for in order to avoid the reality I obviously wasn’t equipped to handle yet.
Due to all the construction, we were met with one closed road after another, making it impossible to get to where we needed to be. My blood started to boil as we drove around in circles throughout sprawling campus. I already hated the place. I developed a silent rage as I grew more and more frustrated with my inability to get where we needed to go in time. I was mentally preparing for combat against the stupid school while the girls teamed up together to try and make sense of the college map and at the same time, try to pacify me in between the colorful expletives flying uncontrollably out of my mouth. Feeling defeated, it wasn’t long before I broke out in a cold sweat and on the verge of tears knowing we weren’t going to make it on time when I finally threw my hands in the air (figuratively speaking, because I was driving and had to keep my hands on the wheel) and exclaimed “THERE IT IS! GET A GOOD LOOK GIRLS!”
I was sure my own disgust about the place had rubbed off on them and they both felt the same way about the stupid place. “Oh yeah, great place. I really want to go here now,” my daughter replied while her friend sat quietly in the back seat and I thought to myself It worked! In all reality, I’m sure both of them were probably trying to process whether or not I was serious about driving for 2 whole hours only to finally get there and give them no other choice than to settle for a quick “drive by” tour. Clearly still in denial, I was certain if we turned around and headed home I could delay the inevitable and we could move on with our lives and forget that this day ever happened.
Because I’m always looking for signs, I decided if we were really supposed to be there God would put someone in my path that I could ask for directions; needless to say, a few moments later the universe turned on me – and soon afterwards, the reality I’d been dreading began to set in.
The lecture hall was packed with about 100 people; prospective students and their parents, all seemingly happy and emotionally stable families who probably stopped at Denny’s along the way and bonded over a hearty breakfast of bacon and pancakes while they reminisced over the years they’ve spent together as a family and provided supportive words of encouragement to their college bound sons and daughters, excited to share the experience with them. Not only that, I’m quite certain they happily obliged their kids’ requests during the car ride and played Nicki Minaj songs, and probably sang along with them. Not to mention the fact that they all somehow managed to make it there on time and probably didn’t have any problems figuring out how to get here, despite the construction.
What the fuck is wrong with me? – was all I could think as I sat next to my daughter and her friend, feeling like shit about myself. Not only did I feel incompetent as a human being in general, I felt like I’d failed as a mother. Not only was I consumed with regret over the trip here, I started to beat myself up about everything I’d ever done and said throughout the past 17 years that was less than loving and kind and patient toward my daughter. All those times my frustrations got the best of me came rushing without warning to the forefront of my mind – all the moments that I’d give anything to do over again so that I could do them differently.
Five minutes into the presentation I could feel the tears start to well up. As I looked through my watery eyes at all the other blurry moms and dads seated around me, all of them smiling as they listened intently to the lady at the podium, I wondered again what the fuck is wrong with me?
And then I spent some time to reflect.
It’s been just my daughter and me for the past 17 years and while it hasn’t always been perfect and God knows, I’ve failed as a mother more times than I can count over the years, my daughter and I share something that can’t be taken away – especially from some stupid college. I may not have been given a set of instructions when she was born, but I was given something even better – unconditional love. The kind of love that only exists between a mother and her child. And as I sat beside her in the lecture hall, among all the other moms and dads and college-bound kids, I was quietly reminded that our bond can’t be taken away and my love for her will never change – not even when she goes away to college.
Yesterday was more than an opportunity for me to reflect, it was a gift. A gift of another year with my daughter before she leaves to start a new chapter in her life. A whole year to prepare. It only took me a few minutes after the tears welled up that I acknowledged this gift and then I knew what was wrong with me. And it was time to make peace with it.
So I took my hands and rubbed the tears from my eyes and decided to embrace the experience rather than fight against it. Following our 2-hour campus tour I decided I actually really like the place and started to get excited as I began to think about all the fun we’d have decorating her dorm room and looked forward to all the times I’ll get to visit on Parent’s Day (I hope they have a lot of those). And then we walked downtown and ate tacos.
I felt a lot better as I drove us home, finding comfort in knowing I still have another year…and I plan to enjoy every minute of it!