Posted by Sandy.
The second child to go off to college is lucky. Crazy mom, as I have come to think of her, has reined herself in a bit after taking the first child to college. She knows it’s going to hurt and this time she really does know what’s coming. So she does what mothers do, she puts it somewhere, so she can concentrate on what matters: getting the next child to school.
While Matt scoured catalogs and the internet, excited by the cornucopia of choices, Louisa was reluctant. She didn’t know if she wanted to go. She didn’t know if she’d get in. Her friends told her she wouldn’t survive being away from home. And of course, I worried that what she witnessed when Matt went to college, would affect her decision because I knew how much she loved me. I knew no matter how many times I told her it was part of life, part of motherhood, that I’d be fine because my happiness would come from her happiness, she’d keep her own counsel and make her own decision. While she did well very in school, it was more of an interruption in her social life. We decided we’d visit several different schools. We wouldn’t take the tour. We’d buy a cup of coffee and go sit somewhere on campus and watch what a day at that school was like. I told her that when she could picture herself there, that would be the one. The academics would take care of themselves. She needed to believe she could be happy there. We started in October and in April, we found it. I could tell she was still uncertain but she was excited too.
I don’t remember much of that summer either. I know we had a good summer. Shopping, planning, going to orientation. But I could tell that she was still unsettled. Walking toward the backyard one day that summer, I heard her saying goodbye to her cat. I almost choked on the lump that rose in my throat and backed away before she saw me. She never liked people to see her cry, even me, and over the years, I had learned to respect that. I knew that no matter what was in my heart, I could not be so selfish as to shed a tear in her presence when the time came.
We packed the car, carted her things into the dorm and unpacked. The room was tiny, a single they’d turned in to a double, on the 14th floor and the dorm wasn’t air conditioned. My mother alarms were shrieking at full volume. She looked at me and said: “I’m not staying”. I looked at her and said: “Okay”. We drove home. Three days later, we brought the rest of her things to the dorm. On the drive up, I promised her that, no matter what, if she called and asked me to come up to bring her home for the weekend or to come up to have breakfast or lunch or dinner, I would. I’d never say no. She left me with her phone and went up to her room. I sat in the park, willing her to stay, thinking about what I’d say if she decided not to. About 30 minutes later she called me. She’d decided to stay, she said, and would be down for her phone. We hugged, no tears, and I watched her disappear through the door of the dorm.
I kept my promise. I drove to Richmond whenever she asked, even on a weeknight. That 180 mile round trip seemed like 20. It wasn’t every week or every weekend. She was adjusting well and she was happy there just as we’d thought. But knowing that the only thing between us and dinner was 90 miles, made a difference, I think, for both of us. She didn’t have to worry about me being home alone and sad, and I didn’t have to worry about her being homesick. Looking back, maybe it was never about her being homesick or bored or hungry but always about me and my missing her. That’s exactly something she would do.