Friday, September 18, 2009

State of the Union

When The Child was two weeks old—and a weeny teeny thing she was, too, having been born three-and-a-half weeks early at 5 pounds, 5 ounces—I took her in to the pediatrician, a lovely Scottish man with a gentle demeanor and a dry sense of humor.

He picked her up, held her above his face, jiggled her a little, and seeing her squinchy expression, said, "Oh, it's a tough old world, isn't it?"

I laughed—something about the idea of that tiny little person with the bunched-up face thinking deep thoughts about this tough old world struck me as touchingly hilarious. And I laughed because in my new-mother over-anxiety, I'd been feeling it was a pretty tough old world, too.

I'd stand over her crib and look at this vulnerable little speck floating on an ocean of Sandra Boynton-themed bedding and start sobbing. "She doesn't even KNOW how helpless she is—and how totally inadequate I am!"

Despite me, she lived.

Now she's floating on an ocean of college life and I'm 3,000 miles away adjusting to what my sister called 'the new normal.' And I keep hearing Dr. MacLaren's voice, now paraphrasing himself, saying, "It's a funny old world, isn't it?"

When I went to college, I maybe talked to my family once a week on the phone and sent a few letters each quarter. My mom would mail me my dad's articles clipped from the newspaper, which, honestly, I mostly didn't read. (Because what could have been more important than my life?) I was so self-absorbed, I gave no thought to what they might have been feeling about my absence; and after a week or so of homesickness, I'm not sure I gave too much thought to home at all. Eek, sorry, Mom, Dad and Nancy!

So far in my daughter's two-week college career, she and I have communicated by phone, mail, text messages, e-mail and AOL Instant Messenger. And mental telepathy, though maybe I imagined that part.

As I said to her via text—or was it AIM—I'm trying not to go all Spanish Inquisitiony on her. I promise, I'm not calling every minute. And she hasn't downloaded Skype yet, so I'm not making judgments on the state of cleanliness in her dorm room.

It's just a funny world, where we bring these little creatures into existence and then act as if we don't want them to grow up. Where we send them off to college to be independent and then use every conceivable technology to make sure they're getting enough sleep or making friends.

But I can feel a transition happening, too. I drove along Santa Monica Boulevard the other day—as it happens, the same route The Child and I always took to school—without feeling sad for the loss of that time, just appreciative of what it was. I'm excited about her college life, but busy in my own. I want to hear about her adventures, but also anticipating the ones we'll be having as Stan and I prepare for the move to New York. I'm looking forward more than back.

I know mine is not really a tough old world; we have it pretty easy in the big scheme of things. It's just a rich soup of a world—funny, nerve-wracking, rewarding, infuriating, complicated and consuming.

As Miss Hepburn said in The African Queen, "I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!"


CampusLady said...

How exciting that your life is changing so much all at once! Far from being inadequate you must have done an amazing job raising your daughter. She keeps in touch when her life must be absorbing her, and you don't feel bereft or abandoned because you have exciting adventures ahead. Bravo!

Andrew K. said...

On the upside...being away from her when you're back together that much stuff to talk about...

PS. The final round of the Kate H. awards are up on my blog!

Karen said...

On a related note, I read an article recently about how Facebook etc. make today's college students stay attached to their high school friends longer than we did back in the day. Between IMing and Skype and all the rest, they're still in touch many times a day with each other. When I was in college, we had to decide whether the long-distance phone charges would be worth yet another call ... and consequently fell out of touch sooner.

A related article talked about how incoming college freshmen immediately get on Facebook with their prospective roommates and end up knowing EVERYTHING about each other by the time they finally meet on the first day of college. In my day, we maybe exchanged a letter or two over the summer ("Do you have a mini-fridge? I have a stereo!"), but that was it.

Brave new world!

one of 365 said...

It's so funny reading your piece because I was more like you were with your family than your daughter is with you now (and I am closer to her generation than yours). I had the technology and the IM's etc....and I was just so into ME, ME, ME. I think it's great that you and your daughter have this bond and that she is being so great about staying in touch. She's starting this unbelievable life change and it shows how important you are to her. I regret that I never gave my parents the time of day--never returned their calls, never thanked them on time for their care packages...because the truth is I adored them and was so caught up in this college adventure for myself I never thought about how it effected them---their last child leaving home and for the first time in 2 decades they were back to being alone. I think you and your husband have a great attitude and I think that your daughter, by being in touch, has given you a wonderful gift because you don't drive by places you both frequented and feel a pang because you know she is right there with you. xoxoxoxox

Susan Champlin said...

CampusLady: Thank you for such a kind note. And yes, things are exciting, when I'm not pulling my hair out.

Andrew: You're so right! And I recommend everyone check out Andrew's amazing blog. How you've managed to see so many films at such a young age I can't imagine, but I'm very impressed.

Karen: That's so interesting about Facebook and IM, and I know it's true. And you made me laugh about the roommates. I didn't know anything about mine until the day I moved in—fortunately, we shared a love of movies, and ended up living together for 2 more years.

OneOf365: So sweet, thank you. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who displayed bad parent-etiquette in college! And you're right—my daughter's with me all the time. A very thoughtful thing to say, thank you.

one of 365 said...

A little pay it forward thank-you on my blog. Hover over your link at the bottom of the page to see what I've said about you ;)