Personal Column by Managing Editor Laurie Everett: Toothpaste in the sink, who cares?
There's really nothing like it.
I'm in a big red borrowed truck full of my youngest daughter's belongings. Her life is crammed into this loaned truck. We are headed to this place I will never like only because it represents sad separation.
She's traveling behind us – a calculated move due to her lead foot on what I've come to determine is the most treacherous route through Tennessee, which seems to be a mecca for barreling, obnoxious tractor trailers.
I see her in my side mirror and can't keep myself from twisting around to look out the back window and over the layers of boxes she painstakingly labeled the past few weeks.
I see her ancient red mustang...and seeing her shining blond head just above the steering wheel makes me quietly catch my breath and feel a pang I've never felt.
We are traveling to UT Chattanooga.
She is leaving for college.
It's surreal this moment. We got through all the angst with the learning to drive, and now here she is pushing our truck forward..go go..along the mountainous terrain. As we cruise toward our leaving her, I try to stay composed and be the "adult," but our little girl is ready to be gone.
"I love you mom."
I see the worry in her eyes, but not for herself on this momentous milestone, but for me as I struggle to let go.
She so willingly flew off the edge of the nest, and I am fumbling around the space. They say that's what it's supposed to be. Grow them up so they are independent. That's your role as a parent.
I guess, though it hurts.
You spend your entire adulthood with your baby, child, teen and young adult. You endure dirty diapers, terrible twos, the angst ridden teens and then all of a sudden on a dime you are traveling the mountains of Chattanooga and letting go. What's up with this?
Simply, it's hard.
It seemed like yesterday when, for her, skinned knees were more the norm than the exception. And when I discovered homemade bike ramps that sent her soaring and when high speed dashes down dusty farm paths turned into stumbled mishaps that had her eating dust and gulping tears. Riding the horse standing up? The trip to the emergency room with 17 stitches in her chin when she jumped from the couch to the awesome platform that was a tiny stool.
That daredevilness stuck tight and soon I had to watch her up toward the ceiling of the school gym and drop what seemed thousands of feet into the waiting arms of her cheer buddies. No decent parent can watch that and not cringe. There were endless proms and homecomings, plays, recitals, band concerts, soccer games and overnights, school trips and science projects gone awry and eventually the numbing process of teaching her to drive, and of course, boyfriends and jobs.
It's all a process that inadvertently gets them to the point they can go from mom nagging about the toothpaste in the sink to literally packing up their life and letting them start a new one.
We took some hours unpacking in her dorm and setting things up. Three other mothers in the "apartment" were as dazed as I. It seemed we all suffered from bad "allergies" that day. Our girls knew that really wasn't the case.
There's nothing worse than that last goodbye. It wasn't awkward on her part. I'll never forget that hug. I was the one walking backwards and waving like a fool.
I got the text about the time I hit the interstate headed toward home.
"I'll be OK mom, I promise. Love you."
There's been tons of other texts since then, and phone calls and care packages.
"If I freeze bread will it stop molding?"
Really? Are you that sleep deprived to ask such?
"I got all A's so far, but probably will pull a solid C in science!"
Ummmmm. (It's up to a solid 93 now!)
"Mom, I forgot my keys to my car in my room at home. I traveled back to college in Stephanie's car yesterday, can you overnight them to me?"
"We made spaghetti, but the water boiled out before we knew it."
Oh my goodness.
And I get random calls. She called to ask me how hosting the political debate was...a couple days after the event. I could only smile.
She emails her sister and grandmother faithfully. She even asked who I voted for, for president. I get an occasional paper she writes.
I treasures those outreaches from her.
Seemed at first I saw her more after she left for college. However, those nearly every weekend visits began to wane, and, torn, I realize this is for the best so she won't be on that dangerous trek too much.
I realize that there are parents who joke and say finally they have their time and it was a great day when their kid went off to college. Some even joyously convert their child's room into all sorts of great respites.
For me, not yet.
My buddy is gone.
She's back this weekend. We hung out. There's a ton of her laundry to do. She held my reporter pad while I took pictures at a local event.
Seems my hairspray is missing and my favorite sweater.
Her goodbye hug was especially tight. She whispered she loved me. She reminded me to please feed her dog.
My little girl is gone.
And, there's toothpaste in the sink.