Yesterday we took our youngest back to school after her spring break. These trips are tough…it is at least a six hour round trip and it is still always sad to leave her there, even though we have done it so many times before. Our schedules this time made made it difficult to spend much time together, but it was nice to have her home for a spell. I like the idea of knowing where she is, and coming home from work at the end of the day to find her on the couch, with the dogs, watching television or studying. I will miss having her around – at least until she returns in a few weeks for the Easter weekend. I don’t even mind the laundry…much.
The trips to our children’s college campuses over the past 10 years have also been hard for me for another reason. I never “went away” to school. When I was in high school contemplating my future (if I really did think about it at all), college wasn’t really a big part of the picture. My parents, especially my father, did not see a great urgency in college for women. I remember him commenting that if I didn’t intend to be a teacher or a nurse then why bother? Most of their generation graduated, got jobs, had babies and lived in the same community for the rest of their lives. It seemed like only the wealthier families sent their children away to college.
I attended a local community college, and while I lived in an apartment with a roommate the second year, I never had what I considered a “real” college experience. No dorms or tree filled walkways, no sororities or fraternities, no meal plan. It was about the time that my sister – who is seven years younger than I am – started thinking about college, that I realized I felt like I “missed” something. By that time I had already entered the world of marriage and family and mortgage – well past the resident student stage. I strongly encouraged her to “go away” and she did, to a college a few hours away from home. She indulged me a few times during her four years away, and invited me to stay with her in the dorm, but I always knew I was a fraud. I had left my babies at home with my husband so that I could go there and pretend to be a student. We had a great time, but I wasn’t fooling anyone, especially myself.
When it was time for my own children to visit schools, I was extremely enthusiastic. I thoroughly enjoyed touring the campuses and always asked a ton of questions. I am sure that I embarrassed my girls on more than one occasion with my queries. They each chose picturesque campuses with tree lined walkways and bell towers. I was in heaven!
Shopping for their dorm rooms was such fun for me – picking out comforters and towels and trying to figure out everything that they would need was a so exciting! I imagined exactly how things would be set up and daydreamed about what their lives would be like with their new friends in their new surroundings.
I know that I have romanticized the experience to the point that it has the makings of a sloppy co-ed novel, but I can’t help it. I am very happy that my children have had this experience that I never had. Even if it isn’t half as wonderful as I may have imagined for them to live on a noisy hall with twenty other students, sharing messy bathrooms and eating food that is a far cry from the wonderful meals that were served on visiting days, I am glad that they have done just that. Although these years have also included things like dealing with inconsiderate roommates and dormitory drama from time to time, I hope that someday they will look back and remember their college days fondly. I know that they have all made life-long friends and it is my wish is that their experiences will help them to be a little better prepared to deal with the challenges of adulthood than I was.
I expect that their education will also include things like tolerance for others from different backgrounds, and the ability to compromise and get along with others. It was also my intention for them to learn how to be independent and use good judgement. I know that this is the last chance for them to enjoy their friends and have the feeling of community that will fade so quickly when they become caught up in the hectic day-to-day of work and responsibility.
In the meantime, I will continue to live vicariously through my youngest daughter’s last year and a half. Maybe I can even sneak in a weekend visit (staying a respectable distance away at the local Hampton Inn, of course) and not seem too lame. I am sure if I add a Wal-Mart run and take a few of her friends out for dinner then I will be welcome. We only have a short time left!