Last spring, just as my husband and I were bracing ourselves for our youngest daughter’s impending departure to college, our oldest daughter, who had been away at college and graduate school for six years, called to ask if she could live at home for one year. Her plan was to work, save money, and apply to doctorate programs. At first we were surprised by our 24-year-old’s request as this was our daughter who, on visits home, danced a happy dance as the hours drew near for her return to school. But, we figured she had given this some thought and it made sense to us, so we agreed. I immediately began efforts to transform her old bedroom from a shrine to her high school accomplishments into a “grown up” room. She stayed busy completing her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, which was another reason we agreed to her return: free family therapy! In May, she arrived home and began working as a therapist at an eating disorder clinic. Surprisingly, the four of us adapted, fairly easily, to a new routine.
Later in May, our family attended our middle daughter’s graduation from the University of Texas at Austin. It was a great weekend full of the pomp and circumstance you’d expect of a large, prestigious institution. The school-wide ceremony was held outside underneath the UT Tower in the center of campus. Each college’s deans, professors, and students marched in together toward the front of the crowd with their colors proudly flying. Loud whoops and whistles sounded as parents recognized their children and their children’s friends. The University orchestra played and choirs sang. All of this led up to the stirring Commencement Address offered by Robert Gates, former director of the CIA, whose address was frequently interrupted by applause and standing ovations. Apparently the audience did not hold against him the fact that he previously served as president of Texas A&M University, a longtime rival of UT. For the grand finale, the band struck up “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You,” while fireworks burst above the Tower, and the number “12” lit up in burnt orange on the Tower’s face. The elated crowd sang along exuberantly, with their hands raised in the “Hook ’em Horns” sign. We couldn’t have been prouder of our daughter, and she couldn’t have been happier. As we hugged and congratulated her, she yelled over our shoulders to friends making plans to go out later. We returned to our hotel and fell into a restful night’s sleep, happy with the knowledge that another of our children had successfully completed college. Then came the light of a new day. When we met our daughter for a late breakfast, the delight and excitement we’d witnessed merely 12 or so hours before had turned into despair and dread. She literally wrung her hands and tearfully stated that she didn’t think she’d ever find a job. After all, she’d been looking in her field of Advertising for several months to no avail. She absolutely did not want to leave Austin, and she couldn’t bear to look for work elsewhere. We tried to offer encouragement, then I gently reminded her that the lease on her apartment was up in July and if she was still unemployed, she could move home and look for work from there. Obviously, when I said it, I didn’t realize the effect it would have as she began sobbing uncontrollably.
The hot summer weeks rolled by and our little Longhorn phoned occasionally to tell us of her job search. There were always prospects and interviews, but nothing definite yet. Finally, she called to say that she had found a job. After I screamed “Hallelujah,” then gathered myself to ask “Where,” she breathlessly announced that she had been hired as a French tutor for two young children. Hmm, I took a moment to think and asked, “Isn’t school out? Why do they need tutoring?” “Oh, it’s only for an hour or two, three days a week during the summer, but Mom, this is perfect since I minored in French!” I again spoke before thinking and asked if she honestly thought this would be reason enough to persuade her father and I to continue paying rent on an overly expensive apartment. Again, the tears began to flow. Reluctantly, she agreed to turn down the tutoring job and continue looking for meaningful employment. The next time she called was to tell us she was hired for an UNPAID internship, which is apparently all the rage among Ad agencies in Austin. (More on that in another blog.) By the end of July, the reality that Austin was a tough job market had sunk in, and she reluctantly closed the door on her lovely apartment with a view. My husband and I were waiting outside in our car, to which was attached a U-Haul trailer filled with all her worldly goods. As we slowly pulled away from the west side of campus, she tearfully rolled down her window and said goodbye to her favorite Starbucks, Einstein’s, Mellow Mushroom, campus buildings, the stadium, the Drag, and all the summer school students walking around campus. We spent the hour’s trip home in silence, my husband and I nearly afraid to breathe. Finally, we turned onto our street and maneuvered the unwieldy trailer into our driveway. Timidly, I turned to look at our little girl in the backseat. She was looking out the window at the home she’d last lived in four years ago. I saw her sigh, then she looked up and smiled slightly at me. “Welcome home,” I said. Now we are a family of five again, living under the same roof, adjusting to our new/old lifestyle, and lining up outside our eldest’s door waiting for therapy!