August 24, 2023

Only Gazing Forward: Thoughts from a College Drop-Off.

The day has come and gone with much less friction than anticipated: I am officially an empty no-nester.

Only an immaculately made twin XL bed lay under mounds of sh*t (books, papers, clothes, and various tchotchkes). That is how we walked out of her dorm room and down the hall toward the elevator, someone’s blaring white-man reggae music the unavoidable soundtrack to our goodbye.

Dry-eyed, we made our way into the elevator, facing each other. As we descended to ground level, I briefly teared up thinking about our last embrace while offering her encouragement and acknowledging the immense strength I witnessed her win during this summer of personal growth.

She evolved, turning her high anxiety into admirable self-esteem. 

Out by the sidewalk, I offer her my tender sentiments of what she means to me, how proud I am, and validate all her hard-won lessons gained this past year, but mostly over the last six weeks as we threw ourselves into the abyss of unknowing, stationed in Asheville. 

She had to dig deep for the confidence to put herself out there and make friends. Learning to wrangle kids as a camp counselor, but also chickens to collect their eggs and horses to lead walks through the woods. 

She had to stand in her truth and stand up for herself as the new girl from “up North.” A girl who caught the eye of a recently set-free mate who won over her heart with his sweet Southern charm and gentle nature while wielding a pocket knife, leading farmland adventures. 

She had to be brave and honest, feel her way into when to use her voice and when to remain silent. 

She had to learn to budget her earnings and gain a new-found independence, one that comes from learning the value of hard work for little pay. 

What we had both assumed would be a wonderful opportunity to connect and spend tons of quality time together quickly became a rite of passage. A chance to put her needs first, push curfews, and ditch me at every chance to hang out with new friends, letting romance steep while catching daily sunsets.

I wasn’t upset—I wanted her to have that summer of fun, as I too was finding my own way. 

Those weeks of exploration and adventure made her transition to college much easier. We may not have made many memories to take forward during those summer weeks, but we made more important ones for ourselves. 

She found proof of her ability to start fresh, to speak her expectations and get her needs met. She found evidence of her resilience and strength to stand tall and proud in her power.

I learned that as far as I’ve come, I was fooling myself into believing I had my sh*t figured out. The more she gained in discovery of self, the more I challenged what I thought I already knew.

As she hugged me a few more times at the curb of her dorm before walking away with my words of advice, anticipation of excitement for what she is about to embark rattling around her head, she sauntered away, floating in each step that took her further away—never glancing back, only gazing forward. 

With a selfish decision to uproot our little family and leave the town we had many nests in since she was in kindergarten to squat in a strange town with only two friends and a loyal pup to pal around with, we found a level of delight for the opportunities to sit in our own discomforts. 

Wide-eyed, we witnessed each of our new experiences with excitement. For her, it was about working a 40-hour week and adjusting to having very little freedom. For me, it was calibrating my internal systems to handle the fact that freedom was all I had. 

Sitting on the steps of her dorm, a full-length mirror leaning against the handrail to be returned, I was waiting to be picked up, recognizing that the past six weeks where the best preparation for her to release much of the anxiety and stress of beginning fresh somewhere, while I faced my own fear of instability and uncertainty with an unabashed furor, throwing myself into online dating and letting go of tending to my child’s every need to focus solely on my own. 

Her journey was more of a gentle, uphill, steady climb, while mine had intense inclines that led to really low places a few times.

In the end, both of us found a new version of ourselves and a lightness to our next steps. I will forever remember that brief pause in time before she turned and walked away, our mirrored smiles breaking dry cheeks. And in silence, we stood with all four of our feet firmly grounded. 


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