Strange Seas

???????????????????????????????I hardly have time to write. I’m waiting to board a flight to Philadelphia where, tomorrow, my wife and I will say goodbye to our daughter as she starts her freshman year in college. As our twenty-one year old son is starting his senior year, soon we’ll be empty-nesters.

Lest you think I’m spending these final moments with my daughter writing about it, she’s with my wife taking advantage of tax-free shopping in Delaware. They left this morning.

I’m not very good at these events. From a panoramic view, they look huge. Standing next to them, they fool you by blending into the immediate landscape. You can’t be sure exactly where you are. And no one is pausing here but me. I didn’t fly out earlier because school started yesterday, and I didn’t want to seem unprofessional by taking such early personal days. Teaching two classes today was, of course, unnecessary—my colleagues would cover for me—but I like handling these milestones with nonchalance. I mean to keep calm. God forbid anyone think I’m asking for special treatment.

But my daughter deserves special treatment. The summer before college is strange. Through June, July, and especially August, my daughter sailed a sea that looked calm but hid strong currents. She felt independent and wasn’t yet, quite. My wife and I were not quite off the job either. We didn’t stop worrying during her absences, her long stretches of cellphone silence, her late returns, her conflicted expressions of indifference then affection then indifference again. She grabbed for the last bit of this or that with friends. At times, her behavior was maddening. Understandably, she’s grateful her hurry-up-and-wait will end soon. While I’ll miss my daughter terribly, I’m happy too because this confusing time will end for all of us.

Three years ago, when I bid farewell to my son, he gave me a brusque hug and said, “Bye. Thanks for the last 18 years. You’ve done a good job with me, and I’m grateful. Don’t worry.” He didn’t really look back after that, and, I realized immediately—but not before then—I shouldn’t have expected more. As a parent, you engineer your obsolescence. Given the challenges of raising a child, no parent should be blamed for looking forward to freedom. Yet, being needed is sweet too, and, where a child’s gaze aims ever forward, a parent’s aims ever back. You see the child, even when you look into a young adult’s face.

So, for the next 24 hours, I’ll define mixed emotion, swinging between impatience and neediness, between celebrating my daughter’s accomplishments (and the wonderful young woman she’s become) and somehow wanting just a little more of her. I want all her attention for one last time.

I’ll keep it together. I’ll pretend it’s no big deal. All the complications of moving and settling in may make the whole occasion seem a purely practical matter anyway. My daughter may want to keep her parents pragmatic, may want it over and Mom and Dad gone because what’s next is her focus. I completely understand—I remember even—but, as her future opens up before her, I wonder what I’m standing next to.


Filed under Aging, Doubt, Education, Essays, Home Life, Hope, Identity, life, Parenting, Thoughts, Worry

5 responses to “Strange Seas

  1. Michael Palmer

    Lovely article! I forwarded it to all my friends with teenage children (or grandchildren) to help them with the inevitable transition you so poignantly describe.
    Thank you, Michael (81 yrs. old)

  2. When you leave for college, you imagine that your life has changed forever. That this a moment which will divide your life into “before” and “after.”

    And it does, sort of.

    Except when it doesn’t.

    This is an exciting time for your daughter, the beginning of something. The end of something, too.

    But no matter what your son says, it’s not the end of parenting. Or even the end of childhood. At least not these days.*

    At eighteen, I felt very adult. At 22, I felt, oddly, younger. At 27, I feel younger still. Less certain than ever.

    Part of growing up, I’ve come to believe, is discovering how very UN-grown-up you are.

    Which is to say that your daughter and your son need you still. You have, as your son said, “done a good job” with them, but the job isn’t over. Not nearly over.

    *So all those irritating articles about “millenials” would have us believe.

  3. Beautiful! And such honesty! Being a parent is a toughie sometimes. I like this story very much.

  4. Sounds very like our experiences with our daughter last summer. Strange seas indeed. During this past year she’s grown (emotionally and intellectually), has become more appreciate of her parents, comes home regularly and contacts us for advice. While do I miss her, it’s great to see her develop in the world. After all the years of parenting it’s wonderful to have a different kind of relationship with them – which I’m sure will be lasting.

  5. Pingback: Walking Around The Year | Signals to Attend

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