It was 8:15 pm at the end of a long, hot and humid mid-August day and it was college move-in day for our 18-year-old daughter.
I am done! I don’t want to go back to the Container Store” stated my exhausted, bleary-eyed, clear-thinking, first-year, college student daughter.
We had been assigned a 4pm to 6pm move-in time slot on a Tuesday. I knew everything about that time slot was wrong. So late in the day would mean less energy, more anxiety and fewer parking spots. By 8pm, after 4 hours of family team effort, my daughter stopped the team unpacking and decorating.
I resisted the urge to shout “How about another small, metal dresser to hold
your Nespresso machine? It could go underneath the loft bed, next to your white butterfly chair.”
I tucked away my desperate desire to hold onto my daughter through obsessive decorating and instead said the words that would lead towards the final goodbye.
“Let’s go for dinner.”
It had finally come to this last act of full-time parenting – feeding her.
Two weeks earlier, the moving process had started well enough.
“We neeeeeeeed to go to Bed Bath & Beyond” said my daughter.
This daughter likes to live a very independent life, so independent that I usually jump at the chance to be involved in any way she allows. If she was pleading for my help, then it was clear that I had been stalling.
“Let’s study the room layout now” I said. I sat down on the left side of the double bed where she had spent a large percentage of her teenage years growing up.
“Ugh, now?” she asked while jutting her arm out to be scratched. So much for preparing for College. Now she was stalling by choosing scratching over preparing.
Itchy skin was genetic. I used to beg my mother to scratch my back “just a little longer”. It was never soft gentle “tickies” but long and hard scratching I craved; the kind of scratching that would leave angry, red marks on the skin. Scratching satisfied my never-ending itchiness. My daughter had inherited an insatiable desire for the same aggressive form of maternal caring – scratching
“Yes, now” I said and scratched her arm wrist to shoulder. She presented the other arm while reaching for her computer.
“The room is half of the size of your bedroom and it has to fit two people. But I think there is a lot of room under the loft bed.” I was getting excited by the challenge. This was a logistical puzzle and I love puzzles. My daughter gave me her leg to scratch.
“Let’s go Sunday. We can bring the new puppy. Your sister will come and your aunt also. We have the whole afternoon.” I stated brightly.
“Okay” she replied, turning away from me so I could scratch her back. She was resigned to my maternal need to turn acts of parenting into a party.
Two days later, with the puppy in a Bed Bath & Beyond cart, we headed to the college registry desk. Surrounded by china and crystal, we were directed to comfortable chairs while asked for our registry information. Bridal and college registries were oddly at the same desk. My daughter lit up when a lovely young student/summer saleswoman presented her with a wand and a customized school list of recommended items. Retail therapy is a favorite family ritual.
“Are you a side sleeper or a stomach sleeper?” asked the sage saleswoman who told us she was a student at Mount Holyoke College.
“Stomach only” replied my daughter. Our puppy, her sister, and I all trailed behind the shopping duo.
“Dorm mattresses are horrible but after you zip them into this bedbug liner and place the mattress topper on top and layer on your sheets, duvet and pillows, the bed will be perfect” said the saleswoman.
I resisted the urge to rescue my daughter from the risk of bed bugs by suggesting we buy a new mattress.
“Down or hypoallergenic comforter?” They continued conversationally, bed bugs having been handled and dismissed.
“I think you need a European square pillow” I said feeling left out. They both turned to look at me. “It will provide back support” I added helpfully.
“Fine” said my daughter.
Score one for me.
“You need an extension cord also” I said, feeling brave about both my value and contribution and deciding to put the puppy on the floor.
“I know” said my daughter. “We will get there” said the sales woman. “Uh oh” said my other daughter pointing to the puppy’s deposit of poop in the lighting department.
My daughter turned the aisle as I scooped the poop and wiped the floor with the tissues I always carry in my bag.
Over the door mirror? Check! Makeup mirror with lighting? Check! Hangers? Check! Closet hanging shoe storage sack? Check! Desk lamp? Check! Stand up lamp? Check! Comfy white fluffy folding butterfly chair? Check! I was feeling good. So it seemed was my daughter.
Item after item, area after area, my daughter wanded her way through two floors and three hours.
“Let’s go to Bloomingdale’s,” I said finally. “I want to buy you sheets and a duvet cover now so we can wash it before school.” I was pleased with myself for finding an activity that I could do.
“I love this pillow” My daughter said in the Bloomies linen department holding up a small square grey and white striped decorative pillow. I saw her face light up with the recognition that her new bed could make her happy. “We will take it and the matching blanket too” I said relieved to see her happy face.
We ended the day at the Container Store and headed home filled with the feeling of success and achievement.
A few days later, my daughter came to find me in my room.
“What am I packing in?” she asked.
I put down the dog I was holding and thought about this new problem. Once again, my daughter was calling me into action as a mother. I jumped at the chance to help her.
“I know. I have old camp duffel bags in storage. We can each fly down with a duffel with your stuff. Then I will fold them up and fly home with them. I will go get the bags.”
Later that day, I drove by myself to the Manhattan Mini Storage center. Loading the car in the pouring rain, I wondered why I hadn’t insisted she come with me to help on this truly awful errand.
When I handed two of the slightly scruffy looking duffel bags to my daughter, she gave me and the bags a look and threw herself onto the bed.
“I am so tired.” She said. Complaining about being tired, I observed, was becoming a new and constant pattern in the few weeks before school.
“I will pack your sheets and blankets and towels and you can pack your things tomorrow” I said feeling bad for her and letting her off the hook for not helping me.
“Okay” she responded with her face muffled in a pillow.
In spite of my daughter’s consistent onsets of exhaustion at every preparation opportunity, she was getting the clean-up and packing done. We gathered her belongings into 6 enormous duffel bags. To be fair, Two were enormous, three medium-sized and one smallish. But all together, they made an imposing site.
“All done” I announced proudly.
“I need to pack my makeup and hair things” said my daughter.
“Okay, I will get more suitcases” I said.
We were prepared and now we were flying out the next day.
The 48 hours after we landed in my daughter’s new city felt like a reality show.
I was in full mommy mode. I got this, I thought. If this were a reality show, the goal would be to amass the best items and transform a utilitarian dorm room into a charming bedroom. The more I raced through this new city, the more my daughter withdrew. Not sullen exactly. I knew sullen. We had lived through years of sullen. But thoughtful, introspective, and subdued. I reacted to her withdrawal by increasing our frantic shopping. I wanted to set up the perfect room for her. Since I couldn’t discuss subjects like making friends, home-sickness and academic success because she didn’t want to, I focused on storage drawers and lighting.
At Bed Bath & Beyond near the campus, I shouted “Fabreze, disinfectant wipes, detergent, dish soap.”
“I got it Mom” said my daughter testily. My cheeriness was not contagious, it was annoying.
At the Container Store, my daughter said “I need more hangers” as we waited for our New York City order to be brought to the cashier.
“Absolutely” I said totally relieved that she wanted anything. In my mind, wanting meant committing to the future, it meant using the hangers, it meant going to College and transitioning from home. I took her wanting more hangers as a good omen.
The following day was finally move-in day. “Let’s slip into the room before the 4 pm arrival time” I said.
“I want to follow the rules Mom” my daughter said. “Let’s start this the right way” she added righteously. I was proud of her for asserting her value system, I recognized her willingness to disagree with me as a small but prescient separation moment.
“They won’t let me anywhere near the dorm” my husband said. “We can’t park” he continued frantically. “Here” I yelled. “This is the dorm parking lot. Turn here!” I shouted. We were screaming at each other. We were stressed. We were relieved to get out of the car.
We were all exhausted and fussy and irritable and not one item had been moved in yet.
It didn’t get easier. Being late in the day meant long lines at the elevator, on and off rain showers, and endless streams of parents wheeling identical bins with identical pillows and drawers systems. Her shared room could barely contain the onslaught of belongings. My daughter’s roommate had moved in earlier and her side of the room was fully set up. She and her Mom dropped by to give us encouragement. They looked a little worried at the site of our purchases unwrapped and strewn over every inch of space. I was on my hands and knees stuffing foam box inserts into large garbage bags. I was in full-on mommy mode, grateful I still had a role to play in making her comfortable.
We had been unpacking for four hours when my daughter finally said “Enough!”
We headed to a local Italian restaurant and settled in for beer, pizza and pasta. We all needed comfort food. She could barely eat. I thought she might be fighting back tears. Postponing the goodbye was making it harder. I wanted to drag out the dinner but she wanted to get back to campus. Her roommate was coming back from her family dinner and they had plans to meet up.
We said goodbye in the parking lot.
“Turn left” Shouted my daughter.
“Why?” Asked my husband. “We can pull up in front. It’s empty now.”
But I knew why. Saying goodbye was hard enough, we didn’t need to say goodbye in full view of everyone milling around the front of the building.
I kissed her. Neither of us cried, at least not in the parking lot.
I cried myself to sleep later that night. Maybe she did too. I was going to miss her and I was going to miss mothering her. We both had adjustments to make and I couldn’t help her make them.
Aphorism – Scarlett O’Hara said in Gone with the Wind “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Takeaway – Being a “Good Enough Mother” is truly good enough.
Recipe – My Amazing Daughter’s Amazing Granola
My daughter is an amazing cook and last year she became very aware that good food gives her energy. When she was home, she had to triple the granola recipe because the whole family inhaled it. Every time I make a batch, I think of her.
4 cups organic whole oats
2 cups Buckwheat groats
One Cup Chia Seeds
One teaspoon cinnamon
One teaspoon sea salt
One teaspoon orange zest mixed with One Tablespoon Sugar
3/4 cup Organic Maple Syrup
3/4 Cup Organic Coconut Oil – I microwave it to soften enough to pour and measure
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract (we use vanilla paste)
Tiny chocolate chips are optional. I like them, my daughter doesn’t. She would probably use cacao nibs instead. But my son finds them too bitter.
Mix the oats, buckwheat groats, chia seeds, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl, add the orange zest mixture and then add the maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla paste. I add chocolate chips just for me.
Line a half sheet baking tray with parchment paper and spread the granola in a thin layer.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes until crunchy brown. Let cool and break it into large chunks because large chunks are more fun to eat than small flakes.
Postscript – One week later, my daughter requested a care package. I was so happy to comply.