Four years ago as your daughters entered high school, I shared two observations with you. First, I told you that these four years go by very quickly: something between an eye blink and a good conversation. I also told you that, in the words of my friend Mike Riera, your job over these four years was to be “fired as managers and then hired as consultants.” I’m not sure if you have gotten your pink slip yet, but I’m pretty sure you’re feeling those calendar pages flipping away like an old-time movie marking time. And so here you are now wondering where those grow-into-uniform days disappeared and how on earth morning cereal became a latte.
And as you meet this next threshold and send them off with their suitcases and not-even-half-discovered-lives, you, too, are headed into new ways of being for yourself and with your daughter, no matter how many times you’ve already walked down this path. There are things to remember as you find your way.
Take some faith in their own piloting. Even though you have spent your days both semaphoring for their various landings and softening any thuds you could see coming, they’re ready now without you, and you know this. They will meet their new lives with a fresh “I don’t have to” freedom, but they will figuratively be taking you with them along the way. They’ll remember the various landing zones you showed them, and they’ll remember when to brake, when to accelerate. You have done all you could to teach them how to turn to the light and how to find the good, even among the bad in this world. And even while you might be tempted to call or text them every day, I’m wondering if the space between those calls might summon even more confidence…for you both. There might be something said for not having immediate and constant contact…all the time.
It’s also good to recognize the creativity afforded in that space between wanting everything to stay the same forever and welcoming big change. It’s actually a good space to be in: looking forward and celebrating while looking backward and remembering. Resist the undertow and embrace the re-imagining. As William Wordsworth reminds us, it’s always important to think about “the imagination of the whole.” And that stands for you as well as them. Now it really is their “whole” and yours…separately. They’re building their view of the world, and you are, too. It’s not just their bedroom you may be redesigning. I remember one student from my former school telling his parents on his departure that it was time for them “to find a new hobby.”
And what’s great about this new land to which you’re headed is that it’s full of possibilities and shape-changing contours: sometimes a beginning, sometimes a return. I remember a parent sharing that when her college-bound daughter told her that she was worried that her parents would be too lonely once she left, she replied to her, “Honey, we played well together before you were here, and we will play together well again once you leave.” Wise words, those: the new horizons are not only your daughter’s.
So recognize this time as something you’ve worked hard to reach, something open, alive and full of promise. Heighten the old rituals, and create some new ones. Invite them into a new kind of exchange, and find those corners for yourself that you didn’t have time for before. It’s such a wonderful two-way street.
I have a series of senior suppers in groups of 10 or 15 over the year, and the final one of the season was last week. I asked the girls to share with me words that they would offer to their parents at this time of coming and going. And, as always, they didn’t disappoint.
Tell them they can have the dining room table back.
Tell them I’ll miss them more than I would ever tell them.
Tell them not to worry: I’m ready.
Tell them all this weird energy in the air is about me, not them.
Tell them not to get that second dog.
Tell them I will unblock them, finally.
Tell them I will call them…a lot.
Tell them not to change my room.
Tell them I owe it all to them.
Tell them thank you.
So, in the midst of excitement touched already with a bit of homesickness and a whole lot of anticipation, they think, too, of you and what you mean to them and what you have done for them. And this thinking, this remembering, is something they will never have to pack: it’s there with them all the time.