There’s a kind of funny thing where parenting, in the long game, done right, can help the parent heal from childhood trauma. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this summer, as the Bee graduated from high school and now has moved off to college. It’s funny, because for most people, raising a child to adulthood without having that kid ever run away from home probably feels like a low bar–but to me, it feels huge.

I succeeded as a parent, because even when our relationship was at its lowest points, she never felt like she would be better off living somewhere else, with the family of a friend, or her grandmother, or on the road with no fixed address. It might not sound like a big thing to you, but it’s a big thing to me, because my parents didn’t give me that.

For the past two months, we’ve been doing all the stuff that parents and graduated high school seniors do, to get ready for college–in short, buying all the things. I wrote a post here, a long time ago, about my own experience in going to college–and needless to say, I wanted the Bee to have everything that I did not. She procrastinated for a long time about buying her bedding (largely due to the problem of too many choices–the Bee continues to sometimes be paralyzed by decision fatigue), and when we were about three weeks away from her departure for school, I finally said, “look, this is triggering me, we either need to do this within a week, or I am just going to pick stuff so you have at least a starter set.” (The kids have heard the towel story, so she knew what I was talking about.) I might not be the perfect mother, but there will be sheets, dammit!

The Bee is going to school about 300 miles away from home so landisdad and I decided that when it came to move-in weekend we would leave the Potato with his grandmother and just take her ourselves. This division of labor meant that landisdad drove to his mom’s with the Potato on Friday night, and then the Bee and I left Saturday morning–and we got to spend the whole time in the car talking to each other. Right before we were about to take off, I ran back into the house to get some tissues to put in my purse, and the Bee said, “mom, you can’t cry today, only tomorrow.”

The Bee’s BFF had slept over the previous night, and the two of them had a tearful goodbye (at which point, the tissues got their first use). After we drove off, the Bee said, “was it this hard for you to leave your best friend when you went to college?” and I was so immediately struck by the difference between her leaving for school experience and mine that I actually couldn’t speak. She said, “Mom?” and I told her, “hey, you said I couldn’t cry today, so I’m not going to answer that question right now.”

I mean tbh, there was so much to unpack in that one question…for one, I didn’t get the luxury of having the same best friend from middle school through high school, because I didn’t stay in the same school system for all that period of time, thanks to my parents’ choices. The ability to do that was a gift I gave the Bee (and the Potato) (and, honestly, my past self).

We drove for a long time, and for a good part of the beginning of the ride, the Bee was reading something related to her college orientation. After she finished it, we talked a while, in the car and when we stopped for lunch about things both major and mundane. We ate at an amazing diner, and about halfway through lunch, she said to me, “You know, I spent a lot of time when I was younger wishing that I had been born into another family, but now I realize that the family I have is the right family for me.”

She could not have said a more perfect thing at that moment.

I said to her, at one point during that lunch conversation, something along the lines of “there is stuff that this whole college move-in is about for me, that isn’t about you.” She feigned a look of shock, like, ‘mom, how is anything not about me right now?’ and I laughed and said, “I mean, it’s about my baggage–but that isn’t on you to fix. But some of it is that it’s good for me to be able to give you something that I didn’t have, and felt the lack of.”

We left the diner, and she took over the driving, which was a different kind of luxury. We went out to dinner with landisdad that night, and then the three of us went to Target to buy some last-minute stuff, the three of us for a brief moment the family we were at the beginning. And then the next day, we got up and went to brunch and went to CVS to buy some even-more-last-minute stuff, and then we went to the college and brought all her things in and helped her set up her room. I took a picture of the Bee and landisdad making her bed, that might go down as one of my favorite family photos–not because it’s such a great picture, but because of what it represents to me.

Landisdad left before I did because he had to pick up the Potato on his way home, and when he left, he hugged me and said, “we did it,” and I just laughed and hugged him back and said, “we sure did.” I stayed through the convocation, sitting with the parents of one of the Bee’s new roommates. The roommate’s mom and I were sitting next to each other, each with tears streaming down our faces. It’s a weird thing to cry next to a relative stranger whose kid is about to become so significant to yours.

After the convocation, I walked the Bee back to her room, and she said, “are you ready?” I told her, “no, I’m just going to climb into your bunk bed and hide there, is that okay?” and she laughed. We hugged goodbye for a long minute, and I told her I loved her, and I was glad to see her happy–that made it easier. I only cried a little, and then I let her go.



August 28, 2017. thoughtful parenting. 1 comment.