We dropped our daughter off at college last week.
We got her set up in her dorm room. Very easy move in. She has what we're calling her "limbless couch" under her lofted bed, where I expect she'll spend a lot of her recharging time. (The couch is armless, and also sits directly on the floor, so, no limbs.) We took her to an early dinner. We walked around some of the campus and a bit of the main street in town. We met her charming roommate from Pakistan. And then we left her there at North Hall.
I didn't cry until that last hug. Aden said something about it feeling strange that we were leaving her and she wasn't going home with us. I told her I've spent her whole life trying to not leave her behind anywhere, so it was odd for me, too. She stood on the sidewalk and watched us walk away. And I burst into tears.
Her first night in the dorm was Thursday. She's now spent three nights away from us. She's fine. It's all fine. But the closest thing this feels like to me is when we moved her as a baby into her own room to start sleeping through the night. We kept our babies in a co-sleeper attached to our bed when we brought each of them home. It was a safe space for a baby to sleep where I could still scoop them up easily when needed. I liked having them right there essentially in my bed where I could watch them breathe. But then at four months when Aden didn't need to eat in the night anymore, and was sleeping seven hours or more at a stretch, we moved her to her own crib and I cried. It felt stupid to cry. But I missed her.
I miss her now, too. And just like when she was a baby, and I could count easily on one hand how many nights she'd spent in her own room, it's hard. In a few weeks, I won't be able to recall exactly how many nights she's been away. But today that number is three and I feel it acutely.
Technology is easing things, though. When Aden was originally preparing to leave for school in 2020 (before the world shut down and she deferred college), I asked what the easiest way to stay in touch with her would be. I'm not a person who texts or video chats, but I would do those things if that meant keeping in touch with Aden. She told me she prefers Discord. So I joined Discord as "Aden's Mom" since she was the only person I planned to talk to there. But then things got extended into various family chats, and it looks like I have confessed to a favorite child because I am "Aden's Mom" in all of them until I can figure out how to change it.
Through Discord I've gotten to see Aden's new art supplies and admire her new textbooks. (UW Stout is smart about everything, so the art supplies are bundled into affordable kits at a local store, and all the books are rented and collected from the library.) She got help from her dad for her roommate's phone problems. Last night we gathered as a family online to play a couple rounds of Jack Box, and it was fun to hear her laugh and interact with her siblings like normal. We were even able to watch another episode of Star Trek together by streaming Netflix over Discord, and we commented as usual about Klingons and Vulcans during the show. Aden was watching from her bed with headphones on, and I could hear her roommate chatting once in a while with someone on the other side of the room.
It's comforting, because she's away, but she can still participate in regular family stuff here and there. I suspect once classes start we'll hear less from her, but for now? While those nights away I can still count on one hand? I like that she's as close as my phone.
I can't imagine anyone is surprised by the idea that I miss my daughter. But the main thing I'm pondering as she ostensibly begins life on her own as an adult is did I do enough to prepare her? And was her childhood okay?
Because it sort of hit me all at once that her childhood is over. Officially and forever done, so whatever I meant to do by now as part of that, I've missed my chance.
We did lots of good things, but was it enough? There were books I didn't read her, and movies we didn't see. Did I take her enough places? Add enough special touches here and there? Should I have made her practice more? I'm feeling guilty about any time that I yelled and I shouldn't have. We got her a dog, but he was so weird. I think I should have taken her roller skating more often. I feel like there were crafts we were supposed to do together, or wisdom I should have imparted.
Was it a good childhood? Because it was up to me to make it so, and I hope I did okay.
And is she ready to be an adult? In many ways, more than I was when I left for college. But in others, maybe not?
She still doesn't have a driver's license. She does know how to vote. Cooking we've got covered, because at this point she's a better and more adventurous cook than I am. She can swim, so at least I made sure that happened. She doesn't use the phone well and she's bad at making appointments, so maybe I should have done more there? How?
My mother once told me that she never wanted keep us as little kids because she loved interacting with me and my brothers as adults, but that it would be nice to go visit us as small children again. Isn't that a lovely idea? I think about it a lot. But I also think it would completely tear my heart apart to go back and see Aden as the chatty three-year-old she used to be, or the clever eleven-year-old, or the mysteriously empathetic baby she was in my arms.
I still remember that baby in my body, kicking me at orchestra rehearsals every time the music stopped. Eighteen years seems like a long time to get to show things to a person. How did I miss so much? How can it be done already? I cannot believe my first baby is in college.
I miss her. I'm excited for her. I hope she's doing okay. I hope I gave her enough.