My daughter was heading to high school. Most parents that I knew were fretting about the transition from middle school, and all the various concerns that accompany that type of change. I was obsessed with just one thought, I only had four years left with my precious child and she would be gone. I felt like I was living in my own personal ticking time bomb.
Four years passed with a million different reasons to celebrate and some very challenging hurdles to overcome. Normal life in every family. Always in my mind, the time bomb ticked. It was a quiet ticking, not one that took away pleasure or that drowned out everyday life. Just a constant nagging in the recesses of my mind.
College preparations were in full swing, the search for schools, the applications, complicated by the fact that she was pursuing playing a sport in college. The process, of course, is all consuming. I had watched others navigate and had promised myself that I wouldn’t let it be so difficult. I failed, it consumed our family. In a way, I relished the distraction from the ticking time bomb.
I remember thinking that if only you had a crystal ball and knew the outcome, you could actually sit back and enjoy the process. The hardest part, I think, is that you can’t rush it, can’t control it, can’t do anything but just put one foot in front of the other. I realized early on that it can be a very stressful time for a teenager and was determined to focus on how to eliminate any excess stress that I could from the process. For our family, that meant sharing the college visitation process with my husband, when I really wanted to do it all myself. After all, the ticking caused me to strive to savor every precious moment that was left.
Flash back a decade or so and I remembered struggling with a similar process when my daughter was in pre-school – the public school/private school dilemma. Tortured to make the right choice for her, I studied the options, made criteria for the selection, made pro and con lists, talked to anyone that would listen. Then one day, a wise friend said, “You know, you really can’t make a bad choice. Your daughter will be fine in either school”.
She was right. She was fine.
Would the same be true for college? She had good choices. She could handle change. She could make new friends. Worst case scenario, she doesn’t like it, and she transfers elsewhere. Everyone said when she finds the right fit, she will know it. So, that day came and sure enough she said, “This is it, Mom. I am sure.”
Finally, a decision. We could all relax. But, not me. It felt like the end was getting closer. Why was I so distraught? How would I ever survive seeing her off? What would life be like without her? I loved my husband dearly, but did I still like him? Did he like me?
Two dear friends called one day and said let’s make scrapbooks for the kids’ graduation. I said, “You have got to be kidding me. Hot pokers to my eyeballs!” They convinced me we should do it, coercing me with the idea that we would have dinner together once a week. Working full-time, I thought that I just couldn’t fit it into my life, but they pestered me into saying yes. For about nine months, we met weekly and ate dinner while we scrapbooked 18 years of our daughter’s lives. We laughed at the top of our lungs, we cried, at times we sobbed. And, we told stories that we had long since forgotten about our children. We cherished the memories, captured some of it on the pages, and presented the gifts at graduation. And shortly thereafter, off she went.
Her absence was huge, like a gaping hole in our hearts and the adjustment was not easy. But, my husband and I learned some important lessons along the way. First and foremost, we survived the transition because our daughter survived the transition. I like to believe that she thrived, in some small part, because of the foundation that began at home. The changes were enormous for her and for us. Communication was critical. When she needed us, we talked; when she needed space, we managed. At home, we found that we had new-found time. We made lists of things we loved to do and for 18 years didn’t have time to do. My husband and I were joyous when we discovered that we actually did still like each other. We learned that our relationship with our daughter was even better than it had been in high school. She was more mature, more responsible, more grateful, more understanding and the time that we had together on breaks and during the summer months was even more precious.
Junior year of college, she brought her boyfriend home with her to meet us. He is from Chicago and she wanted him to meet everyone, spend time in Philadelphia and go to the beach for a weekend. The first thing she did when they arrived at our home was to show him around the house, and then things were quiet. I wondered where they had gone. I heard voices in our den and ventured in to talk. Sitting comfortably on the sofa together, my daughter was showing him the scrapbook of her life, telling stories much like the ones my friends and I had shared. And he was listening.
Now I sit, about one week before the momentous next mountain to hurdle. My daughter will graduate from college. We’ll all go half-way across country to her university to celebrate – my mom, my sister, my step- daughter, my husband and me. We will all cry, I am sure, as we share our pride and we anticipate the next chapter. She’s headed to Chicago, with a wonderful job waiting, her boyfriend headed there as well. And the difference this time around, I don’t hear the ticking time bomb. I know that we’ll all adjust just fine.
By Beth Ann Neill, parent of a young adult