Today, almost as an after-thought, I made plans to travel to my daughter’s college next week, and help her drive the 1,000 miles home. But I now realize I’m helping to mark a half-way point. She’s half-way through college, and half-way to “the real world.” It’s unbelievable, since I still recall so vividly her first days away from home. She chose her college at the last minute; about this time in April two years ago. She stated, without fanfare, that she “guessed” she’d go to Sewanee, technically, the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. We were all tiptoeing around her at that high-anxiety time, and were afraid to express much emotion. But, inside, her dad and I were high-fiving and saying, “YESS!” Then, the day finally came, about three months later, when it was time to act on that decision. Sewanee offered a “Pre” weekend for the kids to get acquainted with the 13,000 acre campus, otherwise known as “The Domain.” They asked that parents come a few days later for a weekend of parent/student orientation. We drove our youngest to the airport and she embarked with her backpack on her back, stuffed with water bottles, a pillow, and a light jacket tied around her waist, her eyes filled to almost over-flowing, looking at me as if to ask, “Why are you making me leave home?” I ached deep inside and wished she didn’t have to. I put on a happy face, waved, and told her to have fun, as if she was going to summer camp, then turned on my heels and headed for the car. I felt numb for a few days, then it was time for my husband and I to head her way for the weekend. She called periodically during those few days, stifling tears and saying everything was “ok.” “Just ok?” I wanted to ask, but restrained myself, for once. Finally, towards the end of the week, she called, crying, her sobbing palpable, “I’ve made a mistake. This is not the place for me. I don’t feel at home here at all.” Gosh, what to say? “Just give it a few weeks, honey. It will get better,” we reassured her, hoping against all hope. We arrived on campus on a Friday night for a parents’ gathering under the stars. It was a beautiful, clear, cool night and we were enjoying ourselves, away from the Texas August heat, and meeting other parents. A couple from Austin approached us, noticing our San Antonio nametags. They asked if our daughter had done the “pre” program, and whether she liked it. I looked at my husband with a brave face, smiled and said, “Well…,” stalling. Then they said, “Our daughter hated it.” We died laughing with relief and said, “Our’s did, too!” And we didn’t stop talking the rest of the night. We couldn’t wait to introduce our daughters to each other. Suddenly, my phone rang. “Mom, can I spend the night in the hotel with you and Dad tonight?” “Sure,” I said, although not at all sure whether I was hindering her freshman orientation progress. The next day, we moved our daughter into her dorm room. It was large, beautiful and never-before-lived-in. What a treat! We met her roommate and her family from Atlanta, and all seemed well. Later in the day, we went to lunch on the quad and reunited with our new Austin friends, whose daughter was with them. We parents looked at each other, conspiratorially, then introduced our daughters to one another. “Anne, this is Caitlin – she’s from Austin.” “Caitlin, this is Anne – she’s from San Antonio.” They shyly smiled at one another, then filled a plate with barbecue and grabbed a lemonade. We grownups visited easily, glancing occasionally at our girls. They were laughing, rolling their eyes, sharing stories about their horrible Pre experiences. The weekend went on without incident until Sunday came and it was time to leave. We hugged our baby, and turned to go.
The next few weeks were filled with teary phone calls home, but the university was posting pictures, and some of them included our girl and her new girlfriend from Austin that sure made it look like they were having fun. Time marched on, and the weepy calls got less frequent. Connections were being made, friendships were developing, a new home was being established. Before long, it was the end of freshman year and it was time for her to come home. She cried as she said goodbye to her new friends and bid adieu to that strange experience called “freshman year of college.” Now, I can hardly believe her sophomore year is ended. She spent the year rooming with her girlfriend from Austin, Caitlin, and the two of them have had another full year of new experiences, ups and downs, goods and bad, highs and lows, but they’ve survived intact, sweet friends who share an unusual bond; they both thought they’d chosen the wrong institution at which to matriculate, then learned through trial and error that it was the best place they could have ever imagined.