Tuesday, March 4, 2008

She's Leaving Home (The Beatles)

My daughter Sarah just moved out... albeit to a friend's house less than 3 miles away, and on very good terms - it was just time. Rewind to almost 10 years ago, a letter I sent to a friend after she left for college and recently ran across - I save everything (which is one of the purposes of this blog, so I can now keep it all in one place.. :-)

Subj: When[She]Was a Boy/The Great Unknown/This is Not the House That Pain Built (Dar)
Date: 06-20-99

Well, it's a done deal - Sarah backed out of the driveway just a short while ago, and I'm heavily immersed in mixed emotions of the highest degree. Oh god, I have never felt so physically sad in my entire life - I kept a brave face right up until she left, and then I just looked at Robert and fell apart. I was sobbing... huge intakes of breath, accompanied by wracking spasms that just overtook my body - in my subconscious, I remember thinking afterwards that must be what *keening* meant. All those years I had read in novels about Irish women crying as if their hearts would break - I completely understood, and it took me a long time to recover...

The University of Central Florida orientation was very well-organized, with the students and families spending an hour or so together at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the day - the rest of the time found us on divergent schedules, with the parents engaged in various financial aid, library and administrative excursions and our children immersed in registration, campus life and bookstore pursuits. The grounds are absolutely gorgeous, with all housing, academic, and social facilities grouped together in one contiguous and easily-accessible campus - we did lots of walking, which felt wonderful, considering my tight and indoor routine of late. The total enrollment, including graduate and evening students, is a bit over 30,000 (a far cry from my West Georgia College days of 6,000), but it seems very manageable considering - Sarah's choice to begin summer term seems a smart one, as she will have a jump on all other incoming freshmen, as far as learning all the short cuts, both literally and figuratively, in a smaller, more controlled environment. A few of her friends are attending UCF, so she'll have some ready-made relationships already - but, knowing Sarah (and that the nut doesn't fall far from the tree), she will jump into new situations with both feet, both of us sharing the same philosophy that "strangers are just friends you haven't met yet"... :-)

We had some special time to spend with her, both during the four-hour-each-way drive and a bit in the hotel room too - even Robert and I were able to enjoy some alone-together time (very unusual, given our normal hectic tag-team parenting and partnering schedules), getting just a taste of what "the empty nest syndrome" felt like, and talking through our various concerns, cares and commmitments for her academic and social future success. I saw Sarah begin to take on the persona of a young adult, ready to be responsible for herself, and I found myself ready to let go, as I watched the joy on her face at her new surroundings and her total confidence that she would be *just fine* - seeing where she would be living, attending classes, and taking her meals went a long way toward my comfort level, as I always say I am a visual learner, and I had to view her surroundings in order to be able to imagine her there, even from a distance of over 200 miles (I think I can... I think I can... I think I can... :-)

Sarah and I had a lovely afternoon yesterday, as we went shopping for color-coordinated comforters, towels, rugs, dishes, glasses, utensils, cookware and various toiletries and sundries that will get her kicked off for the semester - her student accommodations are just for the summer (as she will be moving into a dorm in the fall), and are along the lines of a shared kitchen and living room area suite, with four bedrooms off a long hall, and two bathrooms. She was so excited about the prospect of setting up housekeeping, oohing and aahing over every little spatula, soap dish and sheet set - I wish I could be a fly on the wall this evening, watching her equip that little institutional cell as if it were The Taj Majal... :-)

Oh, but I've had the *most* fun putting together a CARE package for her, that she was instructed to wait to open when she gets up to school this evening - I included some magnetic poetry (since she and her friends, most especially Ryan of "roses are foreplay" fame, have had more fun with mine); a fairy (she *loves* fairies!) address book, with all the special people in her life already written in; the CD soundtrack to the TV show Felicity (since the character is away at college, and reminds me of Sarah, in her physical looks, her hair, and her personality); a small book of the fake Kurt Vonnegut commencement address sunscreen speech (cute, with some good advice, however trite...); dubbed copies of the cassettes of mine she borrows most often (Best Of... Buffett; Van Morrison; Joni; and... Dar, of course!); a book called In Praise and Celebration of Daughters, which Robert and I both lengthily and lovingly inscribed on the front and back flyleafs; and, last but not least, the famous mix tape I stayed up until 1 a.m. last night/this morning making for her.

The set list:

Side A:
The End of the Summer (Dar Williams)
Nightswimming (R.E.M.)
The Circle Game (Joni Mitchell)
The Secret O' Life (James Taylor)
Forever Young (Joan Baez)
Little Miss Magic (Jimmy Buffett)
Autumn to May (Priscilla Herdman)
The Things We've Handed Down (Mark Cohn)
Who Have You Been (and who are you now) - (Carrie Newcomer)
Brown-Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)
You've Got a Friend (Carole King)
Joy (George Winston)

Side B:
Feet of a Dancer (Maura O'Connell)
Box of Visions (Tom Russell)
Come From the Heart (Kathy Mattea)
In My Life (The Beatles)
The Choice (Four Bitchin' Babes)
Better Things (The Kinks)
Might As Well Dance (Patty Larkin)
Imagine (John Lennon)
With You Without You (Amy Carol Webb)
I Got You Babe (UB40 with Chrissie Hynde)
Closer to Fine (Indigo Girls)
I Will Pass This Way Again (Small Potatoes)
Teenagers, Kick Our Butts (Dar Williams)

Yes, this was a true labor of love, and a necessity in making this transition tangible - the songs speak for themselves, and they also speak for me, as they are a musical journey of remembering who she was, cherishing who she is, and imagining who she will be. God, I'm going to miss her - right now I feel like a walking illustration of that scene from one of the Indiana Jones movies (Temple of Doom?), where the village witch doctor plunges his hand up to the wrist into a native's chest, and physically rips his heart out...

Okay, okay, I admit it, I'm crying now, but they have gone from tears of sadness and regret over the last few months to tears of joy and pride in the last 4 days - d*mmit, she's a wonderful young woman, and one I'd be glad to call friend, even if I weren't lucky enough to have her for a daughter. Yes, we've had our ups and downs, but I am sending her off into the world with a good head on her shoulders, boundless love in her heart, and a generosity of spirit some people can only dream about - I take at least partial credit for giving her roots and wings, so she can stay grounded when she needs to and soar without limits when she feels the urge. Sarah is gone, and she will come back, and she will be different, and that is as it should be - she's leaving home, bye bye... =*)

Check out this excerpt, written by Pam Brown, from the book we gave her:

Where did she go, the small, fat creature
Staggering toward me?
Where did she go,
the shy child clutching my hand?
I feel her bird bones still,
still see her face tight shut against the rain.

One day I found her gone,
a stranger in her place,
speaking another language.
Strange that I have no recollection of her return.

Yet here she is - girl grown to woman.
And having won a heart, a brain, the courage of a lion,
All the lost days brought back in friendship.
Now we meet as equals,
having forgiven one another,
having learned to love, having rediscovered laughter.


And we did rediscover laughter, as equals - Sarah earned her degree in four years (Marketing major, Public Relations minor) and stayed up in Orlando another two years after graduating. She then asked if she could come home to work for a year, earn money to pay off credit cards and then get back out into the world - well, that one year segued into two and a half, but it's been a most delightful time, as I've watched her become immersed in a corporate yet fun environment (Hard Rock Cafe Hotel and Casino), segueing from concierge to the Special Events department, learning through doing, frustration and criticism... yet still maintaining her optimistic point of view (wonder who she inherited that from?... :-)

While living here, she's paid her own bills, bought her own groceries and maintained a responsible lifestyle, even calling if she's going to stay out all night - hey, as Anne Tyler wrote in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, "there's no statute of limitations on motherhood", and I can't help but worry. She's good company in the evenings, especially if Robert is traveling or off on soccer weekends - she includes me in her activities and life struggles, and I'm careful to just listen and refrain from advice, except when asked.

When we watched the Academy Awards the other night, as they were flashing the 80 years of Oscar Best Film winners, she turned to me and said, "Mommy, I should rent one of those each week and I'll come over so we can watch it together" - I replied, "that will take us a year and a half!", to which her response was "we've got time."

And we do - Sarah called me mid-day today to fill me in on her last two nights in the new place, as well as just chat about little things: an upcoming event at work, her friend's wedding plans, a first date this Friday night. When she left Sunday night, I gave her a ceramic heart jar with the saying, "dare to believe in yourself" on the outside and "live love laugh" (her favorite saying) on the inside - we will take these proverbs to heart (no pun intended) as we begin this new life transition... for both of us...

BOOK: In Praise and Celebration of Daughters by Helen Exley (Editor)

POEM: To A Daughter Leaving Home by Linda Pastan

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

"A daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart." ~ Author Unknown

1 comment:

  1. Oh! What a bittersweet moment! Good luck, dear Sarah!