When my husband and I dropped our little girl off at sleep-away camp the first time, I remember lying next to her brother in his car bed gripped by something I hadn’t experienced before. My son wasn’t feeling it, my husband wasn’t feeling it, but there I lay, frozen, thawing out only from brief spasms of grief and its accompanying tears. Yes, it was that dramatic.
My son has special needs, and it took a long time for him to fall asleep that night. Finally, when I able to exit the room I called my mother, who had been a child therapist for several years. “Mom!” I wept, “Oh my God, what’s happening to me?” “It’s just separation anxiety, my darling. It will pass, trust me.” “No, no it won’t!” My poor brain had conjured up too many images of creeping snakes and camp food dysentery to believe her. “She’s going to have a wonderful time without you–a fantastic time–and you will feel better knowing that.” A fantastic time without me? How counterintuitive.
My daughter had a fantastic time without me. And I did recover a few days after she left. Her lack of homesickness was refreshing. Of course, when I was eight-years-old and went away to summer camp I wasn’t homesick at all. I just missed my cat. And I was gone for a month, (a gift for both my mother and me). Still, my initial reaction to her departure concerned me. If I’m this bad off now how am I ever going to handle it when she goes off to college?
Not very well, actually. The day she left I hunkered down in a dark room with nothing but my sorrow and a huge box of Kleenex. The kind with lotion. After two days I called my mother. “Will this ever go away, Mom?” I can’t keep circling the cul-de-sac with a handful of Kleenex reviewing every wonderful thing she ever said or did for me.” “Yes, this too shall pass. You’ve officially cut the apron strings and it hurts a little.” My mother was right, the pain eventually subsided to the point where I could pass by my daughter’s room without sniffling. Getting her phone calls helped. Learning about what she was learning helped. So did remembering some of the things she’d said and done in the past that weren’t so angelic.
Now, it’s her junior year and she’s leaving soon to study abroad in Scotland. The holidays and last-minute logistics have kept me safely distracted from her departure. Predictably though, in the wee hours of the morning, it hit me that she was leaving. This time for six months. I assumed the frozen position once again when I realized she wouldn’t be a town away, or a city away, or a state away. She would be an ocean away. And even though we had “separated and individuated” when she went to college, I felt that familiar separation anxiety burning in my chest.
“Mom! She looks so young, and the city’s so big—will she be able to navigate it safely? What if it intimidates her? And it’s cold there—a wet cold– what if she gets sick?” My mother reminded me that when I went off to London 35 years ago for a post-graduate program—for a six-month program–I stayed there for almost two years. And when it was absolutely necessary to come home for my sister’s wedding, my friends had to pry me off of a column in Heathrow airport to get me on the plane.
I’m glad my daughter won’t arrive in cowboy boots the way I did so many years ago, but she might arrive with the same trepidation. Mine only lasted about a day or two. Of course I wasn’t leaving a boyfriend behind, or a twin brother, or a job working with special kids. I never worried about what was behind me, I just anticipated the adventures ahead. Thankfully, I kept most of them to myself. (Except a toga party that practically killed me. Running around in sheets with a bunch of drunken Brits in January was fun/dumb.) Good thing my mother had ESP. Extra Sensory Pneumonia. She always sensed when I needed her.
If my daughter needs me I’m only a phone call or FB message away. Yes, we are close, but I’m not going to visit her. Some parents do that. But this is her adventure. Her time to break free and experience a different culture, and to get perspective on her life. She’s routinely put others first. I told her, “Be selfish! This is your time. Study your books, but study what’s around you too. Eat pub grub. (But not haggis.) Enjoy bagpipe rock. (The Red Hot Chili Pipers’ version of Smoke on the Water is quite original.) Develop a brogue that Shrek would envy. Challenge yourself always, but have fun. And I quoted my late father, “These are your golden years, take advantage of them. Be a citizen of the world.” Her self-discovery will be invaluable, whether she listens to me or not.
I’m praying my excitement over her journey will supersede the burning tears I’m sure to shed at the airport, and on the way home, and in the cul-de-sac. And I will be calling my mother. “Doesn’t this ever ease up? What the hell is it going to be like when she gets married?” And my mother will say something like, “Yes, it hurts, but consider the alternative.” And she’ll be right. I will be blessed to miss my daughter. And blessed to know she’ll be having her own adventures, and learning the world her way. All that broadening should be enough to keep the tissues in the box.
*I wrote this a few weeks ago and never gave it to Jordan. But she’s doing just fine. And my eyes are dry.