Tomorrow we will be packing the car up to the rafters to prepare for a trip. But this isn't just any old trip. My oldest daughter, Heidi, will be leaving the nest to attend college at BYU-Idaho. The campus is in Rexburg, Idaho, 800 miles by car from our home in Everett, Washington. I know, because I already googled the distance. I also know that, according to google, it should take 11.5 hours to drive by car. By my own experience, however, I know it is more like 14 hours. Of course, that is in a car packed with four kids and one adult with a teeny bladder (and I don't mean my husband). It is the same school that my husband Eric and I met at twenty-one years ago. We absolutely loved going to school there. I will never forget all the amazing experiences and memories made on that campus and in my first little apartment of six girls.
I remember the nervous energy I felt as I walked into my apartment for the first time, to meet the five strangers that I would be living with for the next year. I remember not knowing how to say goodbye to my family, as my parents tearfully gave me a last hug. Like me, they also did not like to prolong things, so as soon as my mom had ensured that my kitchen was stocked with enough milk, cereal, and hamburger helper boxes to last me a month, they left me to start a new chapter in my life.
Six girls sharing two bathrooms, one refrigerator, and a communal pile of clothes and accessories. I was in heaven. We stayed up late talking and laughing, with plenty of goofing off in between. One roommate brought a Jane Fonda exercise video to school with her and we did one of her routines almost every night. Another girl made homemade facial masks with avocados and bananas, making our apartment and our skin smell yummy. We would pass around bridal magazines, dreaming about our own happily-ever-afters, and tease each other about the boys that were constantly hanging around the apartment until curfew.
I had never been surrounded by so much girls-only fun! Even though we had never met before the first day of school, my roommates became my dearest friends. They were my family away from home. In fact, we are still in contact with each other to this day. (On a side note, one of my roommates became my sister-in-law, meeting my husband's brother at our wedding, but that's another story!) Through my relationships with them, I realized how much my life could be enriched by having a handful of girlfriends at my back, looking out for me, encouraging me when I am down, and giving me a healthy dose of silliness and laughter to boot.
After Eric and I were married we shared an old derelict apartment which was above a clothing store and down the block from a frozen yogurt shop. The building was condemned the year after we moved out. I still remember the door which couldn't open all the way into the tiny bathroom because it hit the side of the toilet, and the gaping hole in the floor which was directly beneath our ancient claw-foot tub. Those tubs look fashionable and fun in gorgeous magazine spreads, but in real life, the lack of insulation was torture. Rexburg winters are pretty cold. I will never forget the frigid baths we had to take, since the tub was not equipped with a shower, and the air from outside would come swirling in from the floor, ensuring that our baths were quick and efficient.
Those were some of my happiest days.
Now Heidi will get to attend the same campus and make her own memories. We are thrilled that Heidi wants to attend our alma mater.
The only problem is, I feel like I have entered the Twilight Zone.
When did this child of mine grow to be old enough to leave the nest? I didn't give her permission to grow up so soon, she did it all on her own. I don't remember agreeing to this part of the bargain. It seems like she should still be a cute little thing, barely big enough to lug around her suitcase with a sticker proclaiming "Off to Gramma's House!" on it.
The problem is, I know that I did agree to this part of the plan. From the moment this tiny little bundle was handed into my arms eighteen years ago, I knew that someday I was going to have to let go.
It doesn't make it any easier, of course.
I am going to be that mom who is crying at the first rest stop outside of Rexburg, looking back into her "empty" car because it is one passenger short. I am going to be that mom who is anxiously checking her cell phone every five minutes to see if there is an incoming text from her daughter. I am going to be that mom that calls every night, just to check in and make sure she had something to eat. I am going to be that mom who sits in her daughter's empty room, fingering the porcelain ballerina that she left for her little sister to adopt. And I am going to be that mom who's heart will ache, not having her best friend just down the hall to show her her new outfit or tell her a funny story from the day.
However, I will also be that mom who cries tears of pride and joy as she sees her daughter grow from the new experiences she is about to encounter. I will also be that mom who encourages her to try new things because I know they will be good for her. I will also be that mom who hopes that she will find her own happily ever after with a special love, whether it be in the next year or the next ten. I will also be that mom who, while welcoming her home with a warm embrace, will gently nudge her to expand her own wings as she tentatively takes that first flight.
These eighteen years have made it all so hard to let go. Every day I have had the privilege of watching her go from a teetering toddler, full of smiles and laughs, to a beautiful young woman, full of promise and courage. I have seen her struggles and triumphs, her heartaches and growth. Watching it all, I have had the opportunity to love her more every day.
Yes, she may still be just a cute little thing, barely big enough to lug around her suitcase (she is mine, after all), but now it will be emblazoned with a sticker shouting "Off to COLLEGE!" The collection of beloved dolls and stuffed animals are now replaced with a collection of fashionable scarves and bright bottles of nail polish, and they will soon be packed into that big ominous suitcase.
It is just around the corner, and as much as I would like to hold on to what has always been, she will be off to start her own adventures. But my how her wings will shine. I can't wait to see how beautiful they will be, or how high she can soar.
My name is Heather.
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