The Scenic Vista

scenic vistaA friend who is ahead of me in the parenting timeline predicted that my first-born would return from college with a grateful heart. The distance from home and family would create the necessary space for a paradigm shift. And so it happened in the form of a letter.

‘Dear Fam,’ it began. ‘I never realized….’

Principessa, overflowing with new-found insight, detailed aspects of our family values, traditions, and relationships like a seasoned philosopher. She thanked us for our support and expressed pride in our family. I was humbled by the sentiment. But the real reward was a section on self-reflection in which Prinicipessa’s blossoming confidence shined through.

She listed an inventory of attributes that have served her well in her first semester at college – her ‘toolkit’ she called it. It included communication skills, resilience, self-worth, humility, responsibility, hopefulness and faith – all of which she attributed to parenting skills.

When I recovered my tear-soaked eyesight, I breathed a sigh that I might have been holding onto for 18 years. Since the onset of motherhood I wondered if I was doing parenting ‘right.’ Even with the knowledge that right and perfect don’t exist, I longed for reassurance that my choices would, at the very least, have a net positive effect.

I’m still on the parenting highway with a long way to go. But this brief return of a college-aged daughter has been like a rest stop with a scenic vista. A chance to get out and stretch my weary self, breathe in the big picture, and offer gratitude for the journey.

I look back on the road we’ve travelled and wonder how we arrived safely at this point. Husband and I knew we wanted to take this family trip through life, but let’s face it, we had no idea where we were headed or how to get there. None of us do. We hop on board with the vaguest idea of what parenting has to offer.

Taking stock from this spot, I realize that this is for the best. No human can trump the trip-planning skills of life. We can prep and plan but life will take us off-road through adventures we never dreamed of.

Like a good geocacher who has found a treasure, before I leave this resting place, I will offer these nuggets of observation for those who trail me in time and space, in hopes that it will ease their journey.

  1. It’s all going to be okay. This is not to be confused with ‘nothing bad will ever happen.’ Trials will arise and roads will be blocked. Each is an invitation. You will either find your way around them or you will crash mightily. Either way, life will go on and so will you. Find comfort in that.
  2. The fact that you don’t know where you’re going doesn’t mean you won’t arrive. Just follow the signs and dare to explore. You have what it takes. I promise.
  3. Love really does conquer all. At the end of the trip, love is all that matters. Loving each other, loving the self, and loving life is the hardest, simplest, and most valuable aspiration in the world. Return to it as many times as you stray from it and it will welcome you home.

Life beckons me to return to the reality of the road where I likely will lose sight of this sweet perspective, at least temporarily. Letters of reassurance from grateful children may be far and few between. Rough travel is bound to surface and challenge my bolstered confidence in parenting. But having reached this point, I can say with certainty that the view is worth the struggle.  Stop and enjoy it when you get the chance.

Distance Parenting and Curve Balls

parenting worryWaking to a text from my college Freshman declaring “I’m scared,” was enough to give me a mini heart attack. Her physical safety had been inadvertently threatened by the thoughtless act of a misguided roommate. A week’s worth of distance-parenting ensued as my daughter found herself involved in an intense process that resulted in removal of said roommate.

Supporting Principessa from afar was a frustrating experience. I wanted desperately to rescue her, coddle her, speak for her… As mothers do, I wanted to kiss the boo-boo and make it better. Not unfortunately, the miles between us prevented any such nonsense, which gave Principessa the opportunity to rise up and shine through adversity.

Principessa had the wherewithal to handle herself with maturity and sensibility. Witnessing her instant evolution from child to young adult was gratifying to say the least. I felt as if I had arrived in a place I had dreamt about for years. It was a place that validated my (and Husband’s) work as parents.

Husband and I shook our heads in disbelief at the insanity of it all. As parents, we send a child off with hopes that we’ve prepared them for life. But we can never prepare for every conceivable situation. We can only hope that the skills they learned will serve them when life throws a curve ball.

When all was said and done, I felt relieved, of course, but also a bit damaged – strung out from sleepless nights of worry and days filled with phone calls. A week’s worth of uncertainty had taken its toll.

Friend asked why I hadn’t ‘freaked out’ about this violation to my first-born. I could thank yoga, meditation, prayer, denial, level-headedness, or any number of tools in my toolbox. I’m not really sure what held me together, but there was the underlying belief that Clarity works better than Chaos. I can’t allow Chaos to run the show, especially when my kid’s safety is on the line. Besides, I’d like to save ‘Freaked Out’ for an unidentified special occasion – one that can’t be solved with sanity. One that hopefully will never arrive.

BOO! Who?!

scaredI’ve never enjoyed scary things. Halloween, haunted houses, thriller movies, and ghost stories make my skin crawl. People who revel in being frightened tell me about the satisfying adrenaline rush they get when they’re scared out of their wits. Here, we have to agree to disagree. Feeling terrified = bad.

Until this weekend, I hadn’t realized how far the scope of my faintheartedness extended. Husband thought he’d done a good deed by surprising me with a visit from Principessa who was supposed to be seven hours away at college.

There I stood, at the crack of dawn, half asleep on my feet in the kitchen. Stealthily, Principessa crept around the corner and planted herself silently in front of me. I thought I was seeing a ghost.

When I tell you that my brain stopped working, I’m not exaggerating. My body went into full-blown terror mode. My mind literally could not reconcile what my eyes were seeing.

When I managed to unfreeze myself, I began screaming repeatedly, “OH MY GOD!” until my brain unstuck itself and released a cascade of word salad that had my family laughing their butts off. The video that Husband took to capture the moment validates a breakdown of the senses so complete that I’m still reeling from the after-shocks.

For the remainder of the weekend I felt a little off-kilter. It was like playing that game where you return to a room and have to guess the one thing that has changed. In the weeks that Principessa had been gone, I had become accustomed to the uncomfortable feeling that her absence created. The empty seat at the dinner table, the lonely bedroom, the random pile of shoes that never moved. And now, here she was, in the flesh!

Like a new mother, I snapped multiple photos of my first-born with a desire to capture every nuance of her being. Principessa might as well have been an exotic bird – such was my renewed incredulity of her beauty and perfection. She would catch me staring at her with a silly grin on my face, so completely enamored of her that I had to fight the urge to squeal with delight.

The peaceI felt at having my entire brood together under one roof was indescribably satisfying. My heart and mind breathed a sigh of relief, creating a relaxation response that informed me of the low-level anxiety I’d been harboring since launching Principessa.

This emptying of the nest is teaching me all manner of things about resilience and balance and priorities. I could say that I’ve valued my time as a mother up to this point, but I’d not understood the concept of cherishing until the moments began to slip through my fingers as quickly as grains of sand.

My daughter is absent in form but has never been closer to my thoughts. The less she needs me, the more I long to take care of her. The more I say goodbye to her, the more it hurts because I know that the next time I see her she will be an even newer version of herself – one that may challenge my unrealistic urge to keep her all to myself.

Principessa wondered why I didn’t have more questions to ask her. In theory, I wanted to know every detail of her new life. But her very presence was enough to convince me that all was well. She exuded peace and confidence. My girl had matured at warp speed by gobbling up the buffet of opportunities available to her as a college Freshman.

We parted with mutual endearment. “I wish you could be at college with me,” she said, which made me wince. Even when we are exactly where we’re meant to be, doing what is best at the right time, we can’t help but long for the presence of our loved ones to share in the joy of the experience.

But this time belongs to her. I wouldn’t dream of inserting myself into the forefront of this adventure. Instead, I will take my place at the back of the book, buried amidst the pile of ever-growing bibliographic references that contribute to the captivating story that is her.

Faring thee well now.
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now.
Let the words be yours, I’m done with mine.

‘Cassidy’ by the Grateful Dead

Letter to University from Mom

collegeBoundDear University,

You are about to receive a gift. We call her Principessa and she is my daughter. To you, she is just a statistic – one set of criteria that met with approval for acceptance into your esteemed institution.

Principessa will be leaving all that she knows to join you several hundred miles from home. She will be on her own for the first time. I don’t expect you to parent her or to take over for me in my absence. But I do expect you to provide her with what she needs to survive and to thrive over the next several years.

I hope you fulfill the promises you made when you wooed her into your fold – a solid education that will lead to job prospects, a safe environment, and ample diversity and opportunities to stimulate her personal growth.

This seems like the least I can ask for my financial investment. Which, by the way, is significantly higher than many of her fellow classmates. For instance, the athlete with the coveted ‘full boat.’ Apparently his physical skills are more highly valued than my daughter’s passion and talent for nurturing children and her long-standing desire to become a teacher.

My husband and I will pay an inflated sticker price for the reward of our daughter’s college education. To say that I’m not bitter or worried about the ability to afford this would be a lie. But I’m willing to bury my negativity in exchange for her ultimate success and happiness.

University, you have no idea how special my daughter is to me. And I get the feeling that you probably don’t care – except for caring that she reflects well on your reputation. Don’t worry, she’ll do you proud, just as she has done for us all these years.

Principessa is one in 17,000 to you, but she is one of a kind to us, her family. Please be good to her. She deserves the best you have to offer.

Sincerely,

Mom of the college Freshman

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