Gum in Your Hair

A blog for parents under the big sky.

There Goes My Baby

written by Ava & Eleonore Snow | above photo: Pam Omohundro

 

Dear Mama,

I remember riding in the car with you, just 4-years-old, as you explained that someday you wouldn’t get to come to school with me like you did at my preschool. I would be on my own (albeit with a very comforting personalized nap mat in hand) once I walked through the doors of my elementary school. The thought was inconceivable, and understandably so – you had always been an inextricable part of my life, but now a major part of my everyday was about to become mama-free. I can’t even imagine how bamboozled my 4-year-old self would feel at the prospect of moving 800 miles away from you. My 18-year-old self, however, has a much more mixed bag of emotions.

I am excited. So, so excited. The part of me that cried and screamed with joy after reading “Congratulations!” at the beginning of my admissions letter is still very much alive and well. But as the months have crept by since first hearing the news, anxieties have crept in. I’m scared to leave the people I’ve known my whole life. I’m scared that I’m going to waste the precious opportunity that I’ve been given, or that I’m unwittingly plunging myself into a cesspool of overachieving neurotic teenagers who will purposely tell me wrong answers if I ask them for help or kick my eraser away if I drop it during a test. I’m worried about how the complex moving parts of our crazy family will shift once I leave. College has started to feel less like a beautiful idea and more startlingly real and immediate.

Sometimes I think about how I could have avoided this emotional turmoil by going to MSU instead. But as someone who has spent her whole life wrestling with brutal anxiety, I know by this point that the best parts of life happen when I refuse to indulge my most apprehensive tendencies. It sounds so cheesy, but I know that I need to be forced miles (806 to be exact) out of my comfort zone if I’m going to get the most out of my college experience. But that knowledge doesn’t make it much easier as I’m restlessly twiddling my thumbs and crossing the days off the calendar until my new life begins in earnest. The sense of being in limbo allows anxious thoughts to flourish. What if the homesickness is unbearable? What if my little brother can’t handle me leaving?

My mind keeps returning to a scene from Gilmore Girls (a show we love to watch together, because of course we do) that resonated with me when I saw it for the first time last year but now feels more relatable than ever before. Lorelai drops Rory off at Yale and drives back home. But Rory calls her and begs her to come back and spend the night, so Lorelai returns with a futon and stays on the floor. I don’t think that will really happen with us. But I relate to the emotion behind it so deeply. I’ve never had a real problem with homesickness when I’ve been away from home before. But this time feels irrevocably different. This isn’t being away from home. This is me creating a new home for myself. And it’s terrifying. But I also can’t wait.

Love,

Ava

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Dear Ava,

People keep saying things like, “What’s it going to be like when she goes off to college?” “California’s so far away! Won’t you miss her?” “How are you going to feel when she’s gone?” And the scary thing is, I don’t really know. I mean, of course I know that I’m going to miss you something awful, but I’m not at all prepared for how it’s going to feel when you leave home and go off to Palo Alto. Maybe I’m in deepest, darkest denial (very likely). Or maybe I’m just so excited and proud that it hasn’t truly sunk in that you won’t be there to greet me, sprawled out on the couch among books and snacks, when I get home from work.

I’ve never done this before. Never been apart from you for more than the three weeks you spent at Montana Conservation Corps, which I gotta say was far tougher for me than it was for you (and you were the one doing manual labor for 12 hours a day!). I know that it’s going to be rough but it’s impossible to know exactly how enormous the Ava-shaped hole in my heart is going to look, feel and manifest until you’re actually 800 miles away.

I imagine shopping for your favorite foods and even going so far as putting them in the basket before remembering that you’re eating dinner in one of the many dining halls at your school. Maybe I’ll send them to you in a care package? (Except for the Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked, of course.) Or maybe you won’t want care packages (although this is hard to imagine) and I’ll just have to accept this fact. I also imagine waking up in the night with the kind of phantom pain that amputees sometimes feel when their limb is missing. I know, I know – apologies to any amputees but I’m not even kidding.

Maybe we’ll talk every day but maybe we won’t. Or maybe we’ll go through phases when we do and others when we don’t. Honestly, I think this is going to be the hardest part – knowing how often to reach out to you and knowing when to back off and let you be. Because this is parenting; it’s always been the hardest part. Dropping you off for the first day of kindergarten; letting you jump rails on the back of a horse; waving as you climbed into your senior boyfriend’s car when you were only a sophomore . . . worrying, trusting, risking, fearing, knowing, hoping . . . I’ll probably try to soothe myself by visualizing you laughing with your roommate or studying at the library. This might become my new hobby. This, and waiting for you to send me pictures. You never ever send enough pictures – am I going to have to beg for pictures? I’m pretty sure I will.

I won’t lie: It helps (a lot) knowing that you are going to such an amazing school, your top choice and a place you already love. You have been gearing up and working toward this for years with tenacity, drive, patience and discipline – you have more than earned this and you deserve to walk through Stanford’s stunning campus knowing that you belong there. It’s going to be an amazing journey for you and I can’t wait to hear all about it.

But – ouchy – there is so much I am going to miss: the laughter, the dance parties, the Sunday trips to Target, your chocolate cake, doing our NPR voices, your soft cheeks, your beautiful hands, watching The Bachelorette, your patient explanations of all things Kardashian, our long walks in the dog park during which we solve all of the world’s problems (if only!). There is a teeny tiny smidgen of solace in the idea that the bathroom counter won’t be smeared with oozing toothpaste because you forget (refuse) to put the cap back on. But just a smidgen.

So, here we go, my darling girl. This is it, the next chapter in the Book of You. It won’t always be easy, but it will always be interesting because I know you won’t settle for any less. I will always be here, whenever and however you need me. Always. Just one more thing: Please, do your new roommate a favor and try to put the cap back on the toothpaste. I don’t think you’ll regret it, and it might even lead to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Love,

Mama



photo: Joachim Eldring