October 1, 2016
A few weeks ago I dropped my oldest, youngest, one-and-only daughter off at college. And for those of you who have been following our story, you will be pleased (surprised? relieved?) to learn that I was able to maintain my composure and avoid falling apart as we got her settled and said our good byes. So that’s the good news.
If I stop there, I might possibly leave you with an impression of a mature mother–quite unflappable, in control of her emotions. So maybe I should stop there (tempting!). Because that’s where I would like to see myself. I find I’ve been grasping tightly to a crazy belief that if something truly horrific happens in a person’s life, then from that point on, they should have a free pass from crises or trauma and live in peace for the rest of their days. But the truth of the matter is, that by the time Ellie and I reached the college on move-in morning I had already melted down in the car, my poor daughter trapped in the passenger’s seat as I stumbled all over myself trying to explain that these were “mixed bag tears”: sad because I will miss her so, but also unbelievably happy that here we were, actually on the final stretch to arriving at the destination she had been dreaming of for so long.
While I had been expecting to get hit by emotional “sneaker waves” now and then throughout the weekend, the timing and strength of this tsunami caught me totally off guard. Thanks to those jammed Southern California freeways, I still had an hour to pull myself back together. So by the time we rolled up to the gates and encountered the throngs of screaming greeters, with their fresh faces and contagious enthusiasm, I had left Tsunami Land and was able to wholeheartedly join in the celebratory spirit, rolling down my window and answering back with some boisterous “woo hoo’s!!!” of my own (while my shy daughter sunk lower and lower in her seat). So now I was Fun Mom, Cool Mom. (Well, at least I thought so!) This was an entire 180 from Blubbering Mom of forty minutes ago. Talk about emotional whiplash!
And that’s how it continued through the two days of orientation, a virtual smorgasbord of emotions: relief at the strong, generous students who descended on our car as soon as we parked it, and like a hoard of locusts immediately pulled all of the bags and boxes out and schlepped them up the two flights of stairs to Ellie’s dorm room. They wouldn’t let us carry a thing. What a cool tradition. We felt absolutely blessed and welcomed.
There was sweet pleasure in receiving a strong, wholehearted hug from Ellie’s spirited roommate, Kendra, and meeting her folks; some anxiety and stress as we parents helped the girls get settled (trying to walk that fine line between helping where needed and taking over.)
There were more tears coming at the “Parents’ Transition Workshop.” (I think I should have turned tail and run when I saw the boxes of kleenex as we entered the hall!) But I’m glad I stayed because I felt encouraged when the faculty talked about their goals of educating the whole student; aiming for intellectual, social, physical and spiritual growth in their students.
But probably the most challenging point for me to hold it together around Ellie was the evening of the final gathering in the amphitheater graced with the violet-blue Pacific Ocean as backdrop. This ceremony marked the end of orientation and the time to “release” our children to this whole new phase of their lives and the faculty and staff who would be caring for them. We wrote small notes of love and encouragement to each other on the round stones they provided for this sweet ritual. We sang worship songs together as the sun set.
And as the ceremony moved toward closure, the young man in front of us hugged his preteen little sister, giving her a tender kiss on the forehead as the tears rolled down her face. And families all around us moved closer to each other with arms around waists, heads tilted onto shoulders: student “sandwiches” with Mom and Dad flanking their freshmen. And that was the toughest moment, feeling through my every fiber that Ellie should be flanked also. Steve should be there, putting his arm across her shoulder, letting her lean her head on his, where she could breathe in his protective, loving Dad energy. His absence has never felt more tangible. But I have sensed his blessing on this school decision from our very first visit the summer before last. So, in a sense, he was present–just not physically. (I know he wouldn’t have missed it for anything!)
So at the end of this smorgasbord-emotion day, I kissed and hugged my girl goodbye and headed off to find my hotel. I remember feeling a keen awareness as I drove that I had only been this absolutely depleted a couple of times in my life. As I rounded the corner and caught my first glimpse of the hotel, I knew the three star Travelocity rating must have been rigged. Because this was a dive in the truest sense: blinds hanging all akimbo, huge stains on the carpet, and a decidedly mold-meets-cleanser scent. The snarky clerk told me all he had were first floor rooms, accessed through both the hallway and sliding doors to the borderline neighborhood outside. Not something that leaves a woman traveling on her own with a great sense of security!
I was going back and forth with myself about whether I should try to find something different, but was just too profoundly exhausted to even consider it. I was bemoaning this fact, indulging in a little pity party, while I started driving toward the parking garage, looking for a spot near the hotel’s inner door when I heard a huge clanging, scraping sound and felt my whole car shake. I slammed on the brakes and looked in the rear view mirror just in time to see Ellie’s bike, our brand new cargo box, and the rack my generous neighbor had loaned me go flying off the back of the car, careening toward the pavement below. Low Clearance Parking Garage: 1, Carrie: 0.
I jumped out and surveyed the tangled mess I had made. I was standing there in shock, with mouth agape, when two east Indian men came running to my rescue. With thick accents and wide eyes, they said “We heard it from way up there! It was really loud!” “I’ll bet it was,” I responded.
They got right to helping me untangle the cable lock from the broken bike and rack and shove the whole pile of shame into the back of my not-so-big car. Such cool guys. I’m chalking it up to God’s sense of humor, that He would send two very enthusiastic, young Indian angels to help out this distressed, middle-aged lady.
I locked up the car and dragged my suitcase and my now fully depleted self into my tacky room, took a shower and crashed so hard, I don’t even think I dreamed.
So no, there clearly is no “free pass” from calamity, bad judgment, or any of the other thousands of ways life can get messy. And as I look to the future, I should assume that I will face just as many challenges as anyone else. I will have some excellent days and plenty that will leave me begging for a “do over!” But then, that’s just life, isn’t it? Sweet, normal, messy life. I’ll take it any day. Happily.