5am and my youngest and I were up and ready to accompany my oldest into Edmonton for a first-peek, early check in at Grant MacEwan Residence. We felt excited and anxious and sad - sort of like a root beer float with a shot of cod liver oil in it. Life's a funny thing. Our greatest joys are served with garnish sprigs of grief and heartache. Every step forward is one more step away from what we know, what we love, and what we’re comfortable with. But that's growth, right? That's learning, and that's maturing even when you think you've already got there (secret: you're *never* 'old enough' and you never feel 'ready' for life's big transitions). Everyone else who's gone before you, and seemed like they had it all together - it was all just an illusion. They were every bit as scared and sad and full of wonder as you.
Yet…melancholy as it is, it’s also way too easy to stay stuck in the sorrow and sadness attached to this business of launching a child into the big, bad world—easy to drown in the tidal wave of apprehension and grief to the point where we forget that the world is not, as a matter of fact, big and bad at all. Not all the time, at any rate. Yesterday I learned (or, more accurately, was reminded) of something hugely important as I sat in my observer’s chair while a Residence RA delivered an orientation to my daughter:
The first year of post-secondary school is a freaking blast.
There is no year in your academic career that’s more exciting, exhilarating, and shiny-penny new as the first year in University. You’ve arrived! You’re free! You’re about to live amid new people, be surrounded by new geography, hear (and accept) new ideas, and learn about new career possibilities you had no clue even existed—especially if you’re from Smalltown, Anywhere and have lived (not necessarily by choice) a myopic and linear existence.
You are about to meet the people who will very likely be within your circle for the rest of your life.
You’re going to learn things—academic things, philosophical things, societal things—that will re-shape the very core of who you are and bring the person you really are right to the very surface of your skin.
And I for one cannot wait to meet the person my girl is going to become. This launch-thang, it is so not an ending—it is an exhilarating beginning. I am so very proud of her, yes, but more so, I am now incredibly, passionately thrilled for her.
She’s thrilled too. And so, so ready for this transition. Yesterday, she took a look at the people milling about in the common area and, upon tallying the spectrum of skin colors (and the even broader spectrum of fashion), she beamed and said “Oh, thank God, Mom! Not everyone is white.” Amen. ’Cause Smalltown, Anywhere also tends to be depressingly monochromatic in terms of skin tone, a lack of cultural diversity that’s simultaneously limiting and stifling—and so far from representative of the (so-called) big, bad world that you gotta wonder if maybe it’s actually small towns that are, in fact, big and bad. Hmmmm.
The RA, a sparkle-eyed, big-grinned 3rd-year with a dancing East Indian-splashed-with-Ontario accent asked what she is taking. “I want to go to med school,” she said. He replied: “Oh, no! I don’t want to work that hard! My sister is a doctor. All A’s. She had to have all A’s. I don’t want to work that hard,” he repeated and grinned so big I giggled (and kind of wanted to hug him). He’s got a split major: criminology and biology. “Forensics?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “I want to be a lawyer.”
“Thought you didn’t want to work that hard.”
Another shiny-big grin.
Mandeep’s enthusiasm was so infectious I forgot, completely, to feel sorry for myself or sad about my kid leaving home.
Cause holy hell, my kid is leaving home! She is about to embark on the adventure that will be her life. This is so freaking fantastic, how dare I make it all about me and my droopy old bottom lip?
I should be ashamed of myself, and I am.
Her unit itself—four bedrooms, two bathrooms—is….well, I used the word ‘durable’ so as to keep myself from silently repeating ‘jail cell’, but when she saw it, she beamed again and said “My house! Oh, I love it!” and in that moment I immediately loved it too; the polished concrete floors became quirky and serviceable (“Nothin’ a pair of slippers can’t manage!”) and the plastic mattress on the double bed at once struck me as not reprehensibly institutional, but instead thoroughly practical; bed bugs don’t live on plastic, after all. And a trip to Jysk an hour later netted us a fine mattress pad to go with the memory foam (Oh, and a new duvet cover with an elegant pattern and matching coal black sheets didn’t hurt either).
I—more than she, even—bounced around like a brand new puppy next to the bulletin board full of first-week mixer activities: free breakfast one morning. Free hot dogs the next. A field trip to IKEA (Whaaaat?!) that made me dissolve into a fit of more giggles (why IKEA?), and a free appetizers & beer night that I hyperactively pointed out with a big ol’ open-mouth smile—only to earn a sour little moue of her mouth and rebuke: “Seriously, Mom? I’m not eighteen till October, remember?”
Right. That pesky legal-adult thing infringed on my first couple months of University way-back-when too. Sucks to be a fall baby sometimes.
I thought it sucked to be the Mom having to let go of her first born too. Wrong again. Oh, I’ll miss her. And I’ll shed more tears. In fact, I cannot say with any amount of certainty that I won’t go all swimmy-eyed and wobble-lipped this Sunday when we drop her off for good. But I no longer feel like I am plopping something into a casket every time I place a new item in the rubber-made totes that have become her ‘going away luggage’. Now there’s a little spring in my step and a grin playing with my face ’cause I am remembering what feeling sorry for myself made me forget: that, once upon a time, leaving my own small town and immersing myself in every facet of academic life was the best and brightest and most beautiful thing that ever happened to me. I was and have remained, all these years, so grateful for that experience. And I can’t wait for my girl to embrace it all. I can’t wait to watch her soar.