The Parental Catch-22

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During every "last" moment of my daughter's senior year in high school, someone would invariably ask me if I was going to cry. For the record, I never did. I didn't shed a tear on her last first day, her last last day, while taking her final prom photo, during her last ice-show solo, when she walked at commencement, or even during her graduation party. So I was totally unprepared when I got home from dropping her off at college and then sat clutching her cat with tears running down my face.

I figured out why it was that particular moment that reduced me to tears. The preceding "final" moments really changed nothing. Prom/finals/ice show may be over, but life continues on. There was always the next thing to plan and prepare for. Until now. And college was the culminating goal we always had in our sights. Everything led up to it. And now it's here, and everything has changed.

And while I may argue that the tears were from that feeling of emptiness that almost always follows the completion of a giant goal, I'm aware enough to admit that they were also due to the fact that I know I am going to miss her. And that things will never be the same. Our house is no longer her home; now it is her nest. It's a place to come back to for rest and recovery before heading back out again.

We all miss her. She's creative and funny and great to have around. Who wouldn't miss having someone like that in their home? I miss coming home to find her and a friend baking something interesting. I miss coming home and finding that everything in my refrigerator is wearing googly eyes. I miss how kind she was to her little brother (most of the time), and I miss how whenever I'd find her sitting down, her cat would be on top of her – like he knew she was planning to leave and was trying to pin her to the furniture.

The first few days I found it hard – so hard – not to text her every day. How was skating practice? Did you find all your classrooms yet? How's the food in the cafeteria? Are you sleeping OK? Are you getting along with your roommate? Somehow, I instinctively knew that if I smothered her right away, she'd come to resent hearing from me instead of looking forward to it. So I didn't text. I didn't call. I followed her Facebook page and Twitter feeds, grateful for any little quip she posted.

"The Starbucks guy's name tag says Glen Coco, so naturally I'm expecting 4 drinks."

"Some nice boys with a giant blow up alien just came in my room to say hi #typical"

I can't imagine how parents survived before social media. But it worked, and I did start hearing from her. Not regularly. And certainly not with all the details I used to get. I miss the details.

We are adjusting to existing as a family trio instead of a quartet. I've stopped checking her bedroom when I get up for work in the morning and almost stopped thinking "Oh good! Alicia's home!" every time I come home and see her car in the driveway. It's always in the driveway. Her brother has stopped saying "I miss Alicia" on a daily basis and has started emailing her instead. My husband continues to surprise her with little gifts, only now they get sent through the mail instead of appearing on the kitchen island.

A confession: I spent 18 years getting her ready to go off on her own as a confident, capable and self-sufficient young woman – and now I find that she's too confident, capable and self-sufficient for my comfort. I wouldn't mind if she needed me a little more, but if she needed me more, I wouldn't get to feel like I'd done a good job preparing her. It's the parental Catch-22. And there's no getting out of the service.

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