Start of college marks a series of final moments for mom
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: September 3, 2018
A few days ago, while dropping our youngest child, Lilly, off to start her freshman year of college, I realized that a certain phase of my life as a mother was coming to an end. Over the past 23 years, I have become accustomed to putting the needs of our three children before all else. I nurtured them as babies, guided them through their school years and multiple military moves, and saw each one of them off to college.
As I helped Lilly hang a poster in her dorm room a few days ago, it occurred to me that this would be the last time. The last time for all the things that have characterized an era of raising children. In an instant, my mind was flooded with an overwhelming rush of melancholy as I comprehended the end of this purpose-driven period of my existence.
This is it, I thought, the last time ...
The last time I will hang a poster in a freshman dorm room, or fill a shower caddy with soaps and shampoos, or meet my daughter’s fresh-faced resident adviser. The last time I will forget to bring a set of tools to put together the shelf unit we bought at Walmart, or drop the bedrail on my foot while lofting our daughter’s bed, or watch my husband standing, arms crossed, in the dorm’s coed hallway shielding his baby girl from the boys’ prying eyes.
The last time I will argue with my daughter over whether or not a smoothie maker is a dorm room necessity, or lecture her about boys’ intentions after midnight, or realize that she doesn’t understand why she needs to separate the darks from the lights when doing her laundry.
The last time I will attend a first-year parent orientation session, otherwise known as the “Free Pen Grab,” or embarrass my daughter by asking the campus tour guide if students are required to wear helmets when riding bikes, or wonder at the gluten-free, halal, allergy-friendly, non-genetically modified choices at the newfangled college dining hall.
The last time I will struggle with the thought of my innocent child being lured into one of many fraternities that line the campus, or deny that she might dance with the brothers to bass-heavy hip-hop music blasting from enormous speakers on game day, or cringe at the idea of her lounging on the ratty couch sitting on the fraternity’s front porch, or scoff at the notion that she might enthusiastically engage in a game of beer pong on the red-Solo-cup-strewn fraternity house lawn.
The last time I will be duped into using a freshman orientation coupon to get a measly 5 percent off of a fortune’s worth of sweatshirts, refrigerator magnets, fleece vests, car stickers, water bottles, hats, lanyards and mousepads at the college bookstore. The last time I will be surprised when the college staff informs me that, despite the fact that we are expected to pay all the bills for our child’s tuition, room, board, books, Wi-Fi, parking, health services, printing, laundry and other undefined fees, we will never have access to her college grades, health status or disciplinary history.
The last time I will pray that my daughter won’t have to shower in a stall next to a football linebacker brushing his teeth in one of her dorm’s gender-neutral bathrooms, or notice all the potential make-out spots along the sylvan campus paths, or witness her lock eyes with cute but full-grown lacrosse players, or sigh with reluctant acceptance at the bowls of complimentary condoms scattered about the dorm common areas, health center and student union.
The last time I will meet my daughter in the dorm parking lot beside our minivan after freshman orientation to say farewell. The last time I will make her promise to call home every Sunday. The last time she will admit that she’s a little scared. The last time I will assure her that the next four years will be some of the best years of her life.
And hopefully, the first time my daughter is the last one to let go when we hug goodbye.