Motivated by the mission at hand, our family of three rushed into Bed, Bath & Beyond with my daughter’s list. This was it—dorm shopping for the start of her freshman year. As a trio, we had flown from Minnesota to Connecticut for the momentous college drop-off, and only two of us would return home.
We contemplated duvet inserts; evaluated and selected lamps, analyzed mattress covers (is memory foam worth it?) check, check, and check. Oops, we forgot a light bulb for the lamp…Details People!
I called it Bed Bath & Beyond-my-Budget, but I seemed to be the only one amused by my little quip. (My husband, Dirk, ignored me and continued to drive with speed and purpose. Liza’s eye roll clearly communicated, not funny Mom.)
Next stop, Target.
“I can’t find the apricot face wash,” Liza said as she searched the aisles in the Health and Beauty department.
“I’m on it!” And I launched myself into the face wash hunt. “Got it!”
“Yes!” she said as we exuberantly high-fived in a congratulatory way as if we were victors in a critical treasure hunt.
The mission was accomplished with our regular rhythm. This familiar rhythm was about to change—what would it be like beyond this point?
We all stayed together in a hotel room that night, eight miles from campus. Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” played over and over in my mind. Put a different song in your head! I scolded myself for being dramatic.
The next morning, we arrived at the dorm at 10:00 a.m. We met Liza’s two roommates and their parents, helped her unpack, attended a New Student/Parent Orientation, and gathered on the campus green to say goodbye.
I whipped out my phone to take pictures. Liza was beaming. I was brewing. Emotions were simmering right under my skin, but I kept a lid on it. This was not the time and place to start bawling. She and I hugged, said our “I love you”s, and kept it all above board.
Then Dirk hugged her. He held on longer, hugged her tighter. His mouth trembled ever so slightly, and tears pooled in his eyes. I took one look at his quivering mouth and looked away so fast I might have suffered whiplash. Oh shit, I thought—I can’t tap into that!
What happened to the stoic dad? I didn’t see this chin-quivering situation coming. I welled up, and my chin started to do a little dance of its own.
“Oh God Dad….No!” Liza said as she saw his facial expression. She looked at me. I turned my head. I didn’t want to cry and ruin this moment. There was a two-sided scale balancing our emotional range—she tipped towards the uplifting feeling of excitement, and we tipped towards the sinking feeling of sadness.
Dirk and I walked slowly away and continued to watch Liza and her new roommates get farther away.
“Should I take a picture?” Dirk asked me as we were pumping up our pace.
“Well…of course, yes, do it—take a picture!”
“Okay…oh no, what if she turns around.” Dirk was totally immersed in the operation with me.
“Just do it!”
We were like bumbling private detectives, ridiculously ducking and hiding (despite the fact we were in plain site.) Dirk lifted up his phone and situated the camera setting.
“Don’t let her see us!” I urged. His phone went down. His phone went back up.
“I’ve got to zoom in!” He expanded the screen with his fingers to enlarge the image. “Hold it. Hold it. Wait. Got it.”
Victory! We got a few shots of the three girls way in the distance, small specs floating amidst the large campus green. A terrible shot—but it served as a last ditch attempt to capture Liza at this moment. Soon, they were far away.
Dirk and I traveled on to Cape Cod and met up with our Minnesota friends Sonya and Tom. Their oldest daughter was already a college junior, and their youngest daughter, a friend of Liza’s, was also starting her freshman year at college on the east coast. Between bites of Pan Seared Scallops, Sonya and I talked about and our newfound empty nest status. “It will be fine. These girls are so ready,” she said.
“It will just be so different,” I said, with guarded vulnerability. I was holding my sentimentality back, so it did not ooze out over the table.
“They call us, they text us, they come home during breaks,” she said with frankness. I searched her face for any signs of a lip quiver, repressed emotional pain, an ever so slight tinge of oh-god-what-is-happening-with-this-college-onset, but there was nothing. Her dark eyes were steady. No need to ask if Stevie Nicks was haunting her as well; I felt confident I knew the answer. She really had a handle on this.
I admired the simplicity, smartness, and clarity of her sentiment. In contrast, my intellect was wrestling with my emotions, and at this point, my emotions had more strength. I hung onto Sonya’s words and hoped they would someday ring true for me too…maybe not right away, but eventually?
Almost a year has passed since my husband and I became empty nesters and our daughter launched into college. I felt the hard slap from grief when the transition happened, but in time, the sadness eased.
We are still a trio. The rhythm of our lives has changed, but despite geographical distance, we remain emotionally close. And true to Sonya’s words, Liza calls me, and she texts me, and she comes home during breaks.