For the first time since my daughter started her senior year of high school it hit me. She’s going to college. I’m sitting here in my kitchen, still in my pajamas and glasses, watching videos of the schools she’s been accepted to and I’m crying. My baby girl is going to college.
I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m crying because I’m overwhelmed with a sense of relief and excitement that is difficult to understand unless you have experienced your youngest bravely and enthusiastically straddling their childhood and their future. It’s an awesome feeling.
You see, I watched Grace’s eyelashes grow. I did. I stared at her so much between nursing and just dreamy baby gazing that I saw her eyelashes slowly sprout and frame her deeply brown eyes. She was a long awaited baby that we worried we’d never have and then she came ten days early and perfect, except, I guess, her eyelashes didn’t have time to grow. I used to put her on my lap, her head nestled by my knees and her feet rising up my stomach and look at her.
I wondered what was going on in her brain. I wondered when she’d smile. I wondered what her voice would sound like. I wondered if she’d be tall like her dad or short like her mom. I wondered if she’d have anything wrong with her. I wondered if she’d be funny and sarcastic. I wondered if she’d be strong and kind. I wondered what she’d love and hate. I wondered who she would be.
Now I know. She has a smile that lights up the room and a voice that is confident and fearless. My strong genes be damned, she’s short like her mother. She has a slightly turned in foot and a crossover in her brain that sometimes impedes her ability to get her words out smoothly. She’s funny. She has a laugh that sends happiness down my spine. She’s delightfully sarcastic and clever. She’s so strong. She’s so kind. She hates snakes an unreasonable amount. She’s a bit gullible and super easy to startle. She hates running. She loves Harry Potter, Hamilton the Musical, singer-songwriters, reading fiction, school spirit, and computer science. She’s a feminist. She’s an activist. She’s a good friend and a generous sister. And her eyelashes are beautiful.
I didn’t figure out who Grace was all at once. Like her eyelashes, I watched her figure it out slowly. I gave her the opportunities and the space and watched as she experienced life and became this amazing woman who if I wasn’t related to, I’d want to be friends with. And now, she’s off.
The relief I’m feeling this morning is that she is healthy, happy, and able to take this next step to college. Having a baby you have no idea what your child’s challenges will be, and while she has them for sure, she’s mostly won the lottery of being healthy. It is a lottery. Parents know that. There’s no rhyme or reason to our luck, but we appreciate it every single day. I’m feeling relieved that she never got involved with drugs. I’m feeling relieved that she, for the most part, makes good decisions. I’m feeling relieved that she has surrounded herself with goofy, fun friends and has a bond with her siblings that will long outlast my time on earth. I’m feeling relieved and I’m feeling grateful.
But what I’m mostly feeling is excited for her. Maybe it’s because I remember this time. I remember how intense it was to be a senior in high school. The heady mix of being in the moment of this crescendo of your childhood surrounded by people you’d known for years and more familiarity than you can even stand, starkly contrasted with this abyss of unknown barreling toward you at the exact same time. Just as your bonds with your friends, teachers, high school, and community are cemented as part of you forever, you have your eye wandering toward something else, something new, something unknown, something where you have to start all over again. It’s intoxicating, maddening, frustrating, and wonderful.
In five months, my daughter Grace with the curly hair and thick eyelashes will live somewhere new and we don’t even know where yet. Before the summer is over, she will pack up her belongings and bravely make a home out of a cement floored empty room with only a bed, desk and bureau. She won’t have her sister ten feet away to both annoy her and share things with. She won’t have her little brother around to remind her not to say, “sucks” and instead say, “stinks.” She won’t have us there to start and end each day with kisses, hugs, and I love yous. She will have to find her people again, tell them her story, and build up a community of support and love by herself.
But, it’s time. And as I type that I can feel the tears forming, and if I’m honest, a bit of an ugly cry coming on.
It’s time and we all know it. This is the moment for parents. This is why we have kids in the first place. We want them to have a life. We want to give them the tools and opportunities they need to shape who they are and then send them off to learn more than we can teach them by living under our roof forever. We want them to confidently explore the world so they can learn by experiencing things who they are and find out how they want to spend their days in both work and play. We want them to experience life fully, the full spectrum of human emotion, and the ups and the downs that come along with it. It’s their time to take whatever it is we’ve instilled in them and go off and put it to good use as a foundation for what they want out of life.
For as much as we love our children and want to protect them and guide them forever, we can’t. They are not ours. They belong first to themselves and then to the universe. They are so much bigger than ours. And that’s why this moment, and hell, all of parenting, is so damn bittersweet.
I’ll miss Grace. We all will. But I also am so grateful and thrilled that she gets to live this life. Say yes to life, Grace. And go share your wonderful gifts with the world. It’s time.