Thursday, May 12, 2011

Letting go

A friend emailed, asking me for my post about life skills for heading off to college. Hard to believe, but next week I pick up Eldest at the close of her freshman year. 

A lot of people asked me this year what it’s like to send a 16-year old off to college. Generally what they meant was, Aren’t you scared? 

No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t worried Eldest would suddenly morph into a wild party girl. I was reasonably certain that her faith was important enough to her that she’d turn to it for grounding. And academics? – pshaw! That’s why she wanted to go. College was her desire, not mine.

So what was on my worry list? Things like how she’d handle the stress of her (very) high-pressure university, and whether or not she would get help if she needed it. How she'd react when she did poorly on a test. Whether she'd become an isolated grunt, or decide to have a life. If she'd find friends with whom to laugh.

Here's the update: There was a grand total of three times that Eldest called home because she was upset this year. That is an awesome number for any 16-year old. Utterly awesome. She had a few glitches (some of which felt major to her, but none of which were life-damaging) from which she recovered quickly. She was extremely wise about selecting extracurricular activities and balancing them with academics. She joined a Bible study group. She made friends with some very witty and fun people. She survived.

And how did we do at home? The first six weeks sans Eldest were rocky; after years spent cultivating sibling relationships, I learned (via the kids' grief at losing their sister) that I'd been successful. But eventually we got used to the new family configuration.

Or so I thought. About a month ago I was surprised to be hit by my own wave of grief. I'd mentally kept loose track of how often Eldest called home as an indicator of how well she was adapting, and one day realized that fewer calls were also a measure of how far she'd gone from my side. Eldest and I have always been close, but she doesn't need that closeness as much now.

Eldest's independence is good and right and normal and wonderfully healthy -- as is, I suppose, my sadness at realizing she is now more herself than she is my child. Sometimes the mixed-feelingness of life is a challenge. I think most of us try to cope by putting 'good' things on one end of our emotional see-saw and 'bad' things on the other, as if that's what balance is about. But equilibrium comes more from letting all our conflicting feelings sit side-by-side, like a bench full of chattering children, acknowledging each one in his turn.

Or at least that's my experience.


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