Monday, September 7, 2009

Stage Door

I started this post a couple of different times. First, in a rush of unexpected joy last Monday, after landing in New York at 11 p.m and catching sight of my old friend, the Empire State Building, as we rocketed toward the Midtown Tunnel in a yellow cab. After weeks of angst about change and loss, I had an illuminated reminder of all the excitement and promise of the future. I wanted to convey something about beginnings and hope and...

But I never finished that post; we had things to do, dorm room furnishings to shop for, a car to rent and a college move-in to complete. On Wednesday, we drove the three hours north to school under the most brilliant, humidity-free blue skies the east coast has enjoyed all summer. We rolled along two-lane country roads through lush green farmland, past red barns and cornfields to the campus. It was bucolic as hell.

Throughout the college orientation, I thought blog-posty thoughts while hopped-up on adrenaline and sleeplessness—wry observations about this ritual of tucking children into college as administration officials do their best to persuade nervous parents that their offspring will be well taken-care of while simultaneously running everyone ragged so that you're too tired to cry. But I had only my iPhone with me, and wasn't going to try to peck out a post with a clumsy index finger on that quirky keyboard.

I started another version last night after returning home, having flown through the smoky brown air to land at LAX. There was less exhilaration in this post—more fatigue and resignation. So now I'm starting all over.

I guess the point is that I have felt and continue to feel and will regularly cycle through all of these things—excitement followed by sadness chased by joy segueing into pragmatic, boots-on-the-ground marching forward.

The college psychologist who led the parent-orientation session on "Separation and Transition" told the story of a friend of hers who was puzzled by her own lack of emotion after taking her child to college. She was fine, if a little mechanical, during the first week and then the second, until she walked into the ladies' locker room at her gym and saw a woman breastfeeding her baby. That's when she started wailing. The lesson I took from this story: Don't go to the gym.

But as much as I joked about the school offering the parents grief counseling, I found that I was really grateful for the cornucopia of panel discussions and introductions and words of advice and assurances and reassurances that The Child would be surrounded by people who care about her and want her to succeed. After a while, you got the impression that she could go up to any stray dog on campus and be guided to where she needed to go.

So now The Child has been en-dormed—moved into her 8 x 10-ish single room, where she made her own bed and glared me away from lending decorating assistance—and is an official, fulltime, real-deal college student. Four days in, she's already exhausted from a surfeit of activities and an under-supply of sleep. Classes start on Wednesday, when "The Natural History of Infectious Diseases" and "Philosophy, Relativism and Truth" will come as a relaxing break from all the rock-climbing and scavenger hunts and bonding.

On Saturday morning, her dad and I hugged her on the front steps of her dorm as we prepared to go our separate ways back to California. She handed me a little package of two CD mixes she'd made for me, wrapped in a piece of paper on which she'd written "Try not to miss me too much" and "It's okay, mom. Everything's going to be alright." I drove off campus listening to Brandi Carlile singing, "I just want to be/Closer to you."

When I got back to New York, Stan and I went down to my favorite restaurant, 'ino on Bedford Street in the Village. I had a big glass of chilled Italian white wine and we shared plates of bruschetta topped with fresh sweet corn and sweet pea puree and asparagus with truffle oil and Parmesan... We drifted out the door and over to the river and up to the Meatpacking District, where we climbed the stairs to the High Line, the spectacular new park/boardwalk created atop an old abandoned elevated railway. I took pictures every which way.

The afternoon was glorious, and I enjoyed it all with giddy freedom—and a little guilt.

Now I'm back in L.A., living in a different time zone than my daughter. I went to Trader Joe's last night to restock the refrigerator and realized I no longer need a gallon of milk, a quart will do. I pick up the phone to text her and put it down again. I don't know how or what she's doing right this minute, and hope that means she's doing fine. Parents who've gone through this counsel that kids don't call when all is well—but to expect at some point the "toxic phone call" when they inform you that everything's a disaster. So there's that to look forward to!

Meanwhile, I've been fully oriented. My time is my own. What should I do first?


So Lovely said...

Well I shred a tear - how sweet to give you CD's.
I have a lump in my throat as her age seems far more sensible to be going away for the first time than mine at 11. Far too young for me - and no help was given in regards to the effects of separation. Very English boarding school - just pull yourself together and move on. Most of the girls I went to school with had been at boarding school since age 5. xx

marsha miller said...

Welcome back! Several times each day since you left with Annie, I would check your blog to see how you were dealing with the mixed emotions of the day. And so now I see that you are doing okay. Well, maybe even better than okay. You picked the perfect time to leave L.A. -- the fires, the heat. While you were gone, Angelinos learned a new coined word: pyrocumulus. Let's try not to use it though, wanna?

Andrew K. said...

This is so sweet. Go do something you would never have done with your daughter there...or watch a movie. That's always the best default choice

Tina Cockburn said...

Come to San Diego for Chris' birthday party on Saturday. Eat some Trini food, drink some rum, have some fun. Take the train and we'll pick you up.

Really. Come on down!

Michele Hush said...

You deposited a child, but next time you see her she will think she is an independent woman. And in some sense, she will be. There are so many transitions at this age. Thankfully, it eventually settles down to mother and daughter again.

Miss Whistle said...

There is something so unutterably sweet and dear about your daughter handing you a mix she'd made for you. I admire your stoicism that you didn't lose it there and then. You've clearly done a wonderful job as a mother.


Miss W x

Susan Champlin said...

I so appreciate everyone's thoughtful comments. Thank you!

So Lovely: I'm getting a lump in MY throat thinking of you at the tender age of 11 packed off to boarding school—to say nothing of your classmates who'd been there since age 5! I can't bear to think of it. We have it so easy here.

Marsha: Yes, I'm doing okay—down and up. Last night I watched "Ghost Whisperer" on TV and ended up sobbing (all those goodbyes and crossings-over...aaagghh!). This morning Annie called to say she'd already applied for 4 work-study jobs on campus, and I was giddy. Soon I'll be a complete split personality.

Andrew: Right you are—movies to the right of me, movies to the left of me! Thanks so much :)

Tina: We're coming!

Michele: I love "Thankfully, it eventually settles down to mother and daughter again." Thank you for that; that was really comforting.

Miss Whistle: Yes, the mixes were very special—something we've shared throughout the past 4 years as she's introduced me to new bands that I've grown to love. One CD was a compilation of our favorites; the other was "supremely silly songs—because I just can't help myself." And miraculously, they lasted exactly until I got to the apartment in NY! A true gift.