Two weeks and two days…
In two weeks and two days my oldest daughter will fly home from college for the first time. She will once again sleep in her childhood room and will snack from the overstocked fridge, casually trailing crumbs behind her. There will no doubt be late nights out with friends, but there will also be warm dinners filled with conversation, singing songs while doing dishes, and celebrating the holidays together with our own family traditions. When we spoke last weekend, she asked if we would wait until she is home to decorate the Christmas tree, an activity that she hasn’t seemed all that bothered about for the past decade. But I’m happy to wait, if it will make her feel included, because I’m a bit worried that she will come home and not feel like she’s home. I’ve read that this is a healthy step in the adjustment to college, but I want my girls to associate family with home, knowing it is a safe and loving place that will always welcome them.
For the first week after Greta left for school, I had to have her bedroom door closed. I couldn’t stand to see the bare walls and stripped bed, the closet full of empty hangers. It helped that we were “fish-sitting” for some neighbors, so we put the fish in her room to keep him away from our kitten. Then the fish went home and the bedroom door was suddenly left open. For a couple of days I looked in wistfully, then finally stood in the middle of her room and looked around at the few traces of my baby girl still remaining. The postcards hanging from a string, the books on the shelves, and the milk crates stacked with old papers and paintings. She’ll be here again, I told myself, she’ll come home at Christmas and she’ll live in this room over the summer. And yet, it won’t ever be quite the same. Nothing in our family will ever be quite the same.
My brilliantly beautiful daughter chose to go to college on the other side of the continent; in another country, in fact. It wasn’t merely that she wanted to get as far away from home as possible, there was also the fact that she chose the university I had attended as an exchange student for one year and that it is in an amazing city in which her grandparents happen to live. So, there was a connection for her, and she thought it would be exciting and fulfilling. She hadn’t fully grasped how far away it was and how homesick she might be in the beginning.
The first two weeks felt more like two months. She felt it and so did I. Each day got a little easier, as friends promised that it would, but my emotions washed over me like a tidal wave and I found myself consumed by sadness and a feeling of great loss. Greta, too, had a tough time; tired of all of the forced cheer of the frosh activities and untethered by the feeling of being completely alone. She is used to having a circle of close friends, her boyfriend, and her tight-knit family, all there for her and cheering her on. We could only do that from afar now. “It’s so weird, Mom, it’s like everyone is supposed to be partying and super happy, but deep down we all seem kind of scared and sad,” she explained, always able to articulate well the mood of the masses. It will get better, I assured her, when you meet more people and start getting involved in your classes. I really believed this, knowing she would settle in and thrive on the academic challenges and the feeling of independence that this university offers her. It would just take some time. All of the facebook posts of smiling freshman setting up their dorm rooms and hanging out on campus don’t tell you this; they make you feel like you’re missing out on something, when really you’re just missing the people you love. That’s natural, right?
And what about those of us left behind, her younger sister who adores her and her parents who have loved her fiercely for the past eighteen years, to say nothing of the boyfriend who was her first love. We’re actually doing okay, too. We are figuring out our new normal as a household of three and we look forward to Greta’s news from school. We send the occasional care package and frequent letters, and we text her and call her and brag about her to our friends. We are incredibly proud of her and that fierce love hasn’t wavered one bit. This is still Greta’s home and she’ll be here in just two weeks and two days. And while the days of being a family of four all living under the same roof and having dinner together every night are over, we are still a family. This will always be their childhood home, wherever my girls may roam.