I open the envelope and gently pull out parking sticker 604. My mind races and my heartbeat quickens. That space is in the senior lot—the lot that is designated for the “old” kids, the kids who are in their last year of high school, are applying to colleges, getting to close to graduation, and then they are…leaving. Parking space 604 is for someone else’s daughter, not mine. Because my daughter couldn’t be that old, she couldn’t be getting ready to leave. They must have sent us the wrong parking sticker. But they didn’t. It was hers. And all that applies to those older kids, now apply to her. But what does that make me? Kind of a mess. She was gone most of the summer. She has been gone for a portion of the summer since she was eight when she let me know that she didn’t want to go to a camp that only had a one-week session for her age group, she wanted to go to one that had a two-week session. “I don’t care if I don’t know anyone there, mom. I’m fine with that.” So she went, and she kept going, and going. And now, she is plotting yet another, more permanent exit strategy. Out of my house, out of her room, out from her spot at the dinner table, out from parking spot 604…and she is already starting to leave a big, huge, gaping hole in my heart.
We visit colleges. She loves them all! Each one is her favorite. Each one would work for her escape plan. She is not afraid. She craves adventure, new experiences, new people and new surroundings. And yet I see her looking at her 8-year-old sister more lovingly lately, and studying her, as if she is realizing that Jo will grow up without her big sister living in the house, and that they will miss each other—a lot. She hugs her little sister for a little longer. She tells her how much she loves her. I even heard her whispering to her, “You have to tell mom and dad to get you an iphone so we can face-time.” Jo tells her that she will. And her brothers, she is more affectionate with them too, and is much more accepting of the things they do that used to send her ranting about how completely annoying they both are. She knows she will soon be communicating with them from afar. She understands that things will be different.
Sometimes I feel “stuff” welling up inside of me and I’m not sure what it is. Sometimes I cry at the end of a yoga class when we are resting silently on our mats with our eyes closed and I have the chance to let go of all that I am trying desperately to hold onto. I realize that the stuff that I am so carefully guarding within my chest cavity is the pain, sadness and fear that arises (but needs to be contained) when I try to wrap my brain and my heart around the fact that my oldest child, my first born, my oldest daughter will soon leave the nest that I have spent 18 years trying to make comfortable, warm and safe for her. She was the guinea pig. She turned me into a mom and provided me with my first stab at being a parent. In so many ways, she has been my teacher. And now, even though they say, you are not supposed to be friends with your child, she is my friend. Yes, I am still her mom, I set the limits, the expectations and do all that a good parent is supposed to do, but I can’t help that I really, really like her; that I find her to be one of the funniest people I know; that I love going into her room at night, flopping down on her bed and talking with her and listening to her—about anything. I like that she is smart and interesting and fun to be around. I like that she is honest, in a no b.s. kind of way, like when she tells me that my hair looks crazy or it’s time to color the grays, or that my shoes are not right for my outfit. She tells me that I take too long to edit her papers and that I am taking way too long to write my book. But she also cheers me on and is supportive of my dreams. She is real, she is kind, she is passionate—the best kind of friend any person would want; how could she NOT be my friend?
Her exit strategy is working. She is going to be accepted to some of the colleges she applied to and she will pick one, and then...no matter how many tears I shed, she is going to hit the road. Her parking spot in the senior lot will be taken over next year by another child whose mom cannot quite place where the 18 years have gone. And I will move through this transition…somehow, just like all the courageous moms who have raised wonderful children and then set them free. And for the time being I will try and rejoice that her parking sticker says 604; that she is still parking in the big kid lot at the school my other kids attend. I will continue to smile and exhale when I hear her car pull into our driveway and when she barrels in through the door usually yelling something that I don’t understand.
Her presence is big in our house and in my heart and I intend to fully cherish it, even after her “operation exit home” is successful.