Back in August, when I dropped my baby off at college over 500 miles away, I started counting the months, the weeks, and now finally the days when I would see her again.
Ever since I left her and came back home, there’s been a hole in my heart, a vacancy in my life that couldn’t be filled. The ache of not having her here doesn’t go away. Life goes on, things get done, there’s laughter and love still in this home. But my girl is missing, my family is altered, and the lingering emptiness of her smile and voice, and all the ways she filled our days is ever-present and sometimes the rush of emotional waves surge up in my throat if I let myself think about her for too long.
I’ve missed feeding her meals and cleaning up all her messes and the way she left every day with “I love you, mom!” and “I’ll check in later!” and came back through the door with “Mom, I can’t wait to tell you what happened!” I’ve missed every single piece of who she is and how she lives. I’ve missed knowing all the details of her days that she shared so freely, inviting me into it all. I’ve longed to hug her, touch her beautiful face, and snuggle together while I listen to her talk about all the things that matter most to her.
I’ve missed going to her bedroom door, just to check in and see how she’s doing. I’ve missed seeing her sitting on her bed reading a book or completing her schoolwork and listening to her favorite music. I’ve missed hearing her laughter when she’d be face-timing friends on her phone, waving me away during her conversations. It’s been empty and silent, echoing the faint memories of her sweet presence I often relive when I enter her room. I can’t last too long in there; I can’t see those stark shelves and that deserted bed. There are no scattered clothes on the floor or sacred books on her desk. Her room is vacant of all the things that reflect who she is and I can’t help but long for the ways things used to be.
My husband started hanging some coats and old dress shirts he doesn’t wear in her closet, and when I first saw them, I sank a little bit lower in my sadness. I wanted that closet to remain empty and wait for her things to fill it back up, but with this child, I know she has already spread her wings and will remain far away with only rare returns back home on some holidays. In our last conversation, she told me college was becoming her home and I was so happy she was creating her new life filled with good people and great things that are fulfilling and lasting. She was born to leave, this, I’m sure. Some people aren’t built to go very far, but my kid was always this way from a very young age, and I have to grapple with this reality that is starting too soon and happening so fast.
And as I dust her shelves and clean her bedding, as I make some of her favorite foods to eat, and I hang the “Welcome Home!” sign up for her to see when she comes through that door, I’m trying to also prepare my heart for our reunion. I won’t know all the intricate ways she’s grown and changed until I hold her in my arms and have her back in my home.
She won’t be the same child I left so many months ago. I’m worried I won’t recognize my baby underneath all the layers of life she’s lived. I’m excited to see who she’s growing up to be and anxious to learn who she is now and how I can best love this newly evolved person I’ll be meeting for the first time. I hope and pray she’ll grant me the privilege of getting to know her once again. She’ll always be my baby, my little girl, but she’s not a baby anymore. She’s changing with increasing speed, with every day she’s gone and it’s all happening so very far away from me. I will never know everything about her, I will never be able to see all she does and how she lives. And I long to learn every detail of it all…
And this is how it goes, this is how it is. This is both my deepest pain and greatest joy in parenting my college girl. It’s fraught with worries when I don’t hear from her for weeks on end and filled with wondering about what she’s doing, how she’s feeling, and if she’s staying healthy and well. I get texts full of exciting new things she’s experiencing and how happy she is and how much fun she’s having. I listen to her unravel her busy unending schedule when she calls. But it isn’t enough, it’s never enough, and it never will be. This is the part of parenting that will never be easy.
So, I take all I can get when she calls or texts. I tell her how proud I am of all the incredible things she’s doing and all the amazing ways she’s growing. I remind her to rest and eat well too. I tell her how much I love her, how I can’t wait to see her, but I don’t tell her how desperately I miss her. That’s my secret to keep, buried deep in my heart that rises with rushing tears when I’m reminded of her not being here to share her life with me.
Soon I’ll be counting the hours until I’ll be waiting at the gate for her flight to come in. Soon I’ll have my baby in my arms and be able to welcome her home. It will be a fleeting few days full of family and feasts and I’m sure she’ll want to see all her friends, too. So, I won’t expect much, as hard as that will be. But whatever I get will be a gift to me. I just want to hug her and see her beautiful face and have her back in our home, filling her room and this place, and filling the hole in my heart once again.