We don’t always know that we have expectations about things until they unfold differently than expected. I never once sat down to picture my daughter’s last days of college. I certainly would not have pictured me spending two nights camping on her apartment floor so that I can assist with final clean up and, more importantly, function as an emotional support for a young woman with a raging head cold who has to face the final exam for a class that has thrice given her massive, can’t-breathe, panic attacks. My daughter has become so thoroughly adult in the way she faces her troubles, that I have to tell her it is okay to get some hand-holding right at the last exhausting bit.
The walls of the apartment bedroom are bare now. We took down the posters and the forest of stick-on wall hooks that used to host hats, calendars, whiteboards, and other life paraphernalia. What remains are white walls and a pile of boxes in the corner, each labeled with where they will go to be unpacked once we’re at home. My house is “home” now when she speaks. For a long time “home” was her college existence, but now it is my house again. I’ll be glad to fold her back into the patterns of our family.
For two weeks I’ll have all four, then we’ll launch our son who is desperate to find a home that isn’t my house. My house isn’t home to him, he tells me. I nod and understand that emotionally and developmentally this statement is exactly as it should be. I save my crying for when he is not around to see it. I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life sacrificing to create a safe and nurturing home for my children to grow inside. I know that pushing off and pushing away is necessary. I still stagger a bit from the force of it.
I didn’t picture sleeping on an apartment floor. And I didn’t picture being told “this isn’t my home.” I didn’t picture a teenager with scratched up arms. I didn’t picture home schooling.
I also didn’t picture a teenage daughter who squees out loud with delight over her pet snake and little growing plants. I didn’t picture the way that my oldest tousles the hair of my youngest, or the way he puts up with this irritation because his sister can get away with it. I didn’t picture the comfort of warm hugs from sons who are half again larger than I am. I didn’t picture the hundred daily ways that Howard and I look out for each other and support each other.
I wonder what I did expect since the vast majority of my life seems like a surprise to me.
Tomorrow by 1pm all the boxes will be in the car and the three hour drive will begin. It will be the last fetching-home-from-college for this daughter. We’ll all come back for the graduation ceremony in spring, but that will be a vacation trip, not a life-altering transition. We’ll disperse her belongings and mingle them with our household. She’ll have a safe haven while she builds toward her next launch. But first she gets to rest. We have a holiday to navigate, and some shared family experiences to create. Two weeks of welcome home and farewell mixed in holiday colors.
Once I’m home, I’m back in the middle of it, so there is a part of me that is grateful for the space and distance created by waiting in my daughter’s apartment while she completes finals. I made plans for how to use the space. I may still do so, but the largest part of today went to sleeping. I can only partly blame the too-thin foam mat which disrupted my sleep last night. I arrived tired. It is not a waste to use time for sleeping. I have to remind myself of that.
I will be glad to go home. I will settle back in to my regular round of comforts and obligations. I will sit on my couch and stare at the bare studs of an incomplete construction project. I will make plans for getting that project complete, or for earning the money to pay for the project to be completed. I will plan for Christmas and for taking my son shopping to outfit his dorm room. I will plan for home schooling next year. I will plan for cleaning and cooking in advance of the holiday.
And, inevitably, my plans will not turn out as I expected. I will adapt and learn to be happy with things as they are even when they’re not how I thought they would be.