There’s no relief from the sauna of summer in the South. Ceiling fans provide a light breeze that often means the difference between barely tolerating summer and embracing it. The gentle undulation of air across your body lulls you into relaxation, and you find pleasure in what you might otherwise avoid.
But today, the slow tick of the kitchen fan above my head wasn’t helping me to relax, much less to embrace, the back to school transition I was facing. Just the day before, I kissed my college freshman goodbye on the steps of her dorm. She is my first-born, and I’m not sure I’ve given every bit of advice I should have to fully prepare her for adulthood. This goodbye moment snuck up on me like late afternoon hunger pangs after skipping lunch to finish some urgent work.
I must have made some valuable comments while cutting fruit into bite size chunks on busy school mornings. Dramatic bits of wisdom surely percolated up through my caffeinated brain and formed words worth sharing. But I never considered these would be the lasting moments that would ease my daughter toward adulthood.
On this morning, I bent over the bottom rack of the dishwasher, gripping a clean cereal bowl with two hands. On the radio across the room, Bill Wither’s had begun to sing…”Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone…only darkness everyday…this house just ain’t no home, any time she goes away.” My mind replayed yesterday’s goodbye like a Martin Scorsese movie. You just know someone’s going to get hurt, and you can’t help but watch.
Yesterday’s goodbye began with my daughter and I surveying her dorm room. It was decorated. Her books were purchased. Towels were washed, and beds had been made. It was time—time for me to get in my car and go home to my two younger children. But it was my daughter who hesitated and cried first. “Why does this have to be so sad?” My own tears negated the reassuring words that splattered out of my mouth. “It’s new territory. Bound to be hard. But maybe if…” We agreed it was best if she came with me to get gas.
I walked into the mini-mart to buy water and allowed myself to cry and over-explain to the clerk. The woman’s deep, dark eyes and slow Southern drawl comforted me. The compassion of her heart played a sweet melody to my own. “Now honey,” she reassured me, “You gon be all righ. This your first baby? Ah sugar, you gon make me cry too.” After a moment, I collected my silent self and dragged my feet back to the car where my longhaired girl sat staring straight ahead.
My daughter reviewed with me how to use the GPS device in the rental car. She knew my phone battery was low and that I had no charger. I let her parent me and felt comforted by her being in charge. As I drove her back to her dorm, I took a right hand turn much too quickly. She stared at me in surprise, and I gave her a half smile as an apology.
I made a wild suggestion to ease the pain of separation. “We could drive up next Saturday and take you to lunch and then drive home that same evening. It isn’t too far.” She didn’t readily accept the offer. Maybe she hoped she wouldn’t need us or maybe she just couldn’t speak. Something in me told me to release my grip.
The tables were not just turning, but spinning madly in a circle. We reached the parking lot, and I was relieved to find her dad there. We’d driven up in separate cars. With my husband there, she wouldn’t cry or show her vulnerability and I could make a tearless getaway. His last task was to hang a single, grey wooden word she’d selected as art: Relax. Is it coincidence a nearly identical Relax sits on our mantel at home? Probably not. Just like waves deposit certain shells on the beach while they pull others back out to sea, she is holding onto a piece of home as she is swept off to college.
For two and a half hours, I drove in silence because I felt like someone who’d lost a loved one too soon. Sometimes tears came. I made no attempt to wipe them. When I pulled into the driveway, my 11-year old daughter walked out to meet me.
“I bet someone is sad,” she offered as she patted my hand. Her warm brown eyes met mine. “Yeah, I’m sad,” I agreed. “Well I made you a surprise. Come on! Its upstairs on your bed!” She grabbed my hand and pulled me along. She could see I didn’t share her enthusiasm so she began to sing song, “It will make you feel better.” Artfully arranged on my bed I found my older daughter’s infant blanket, baby pictures, and stuffed animals. “I knew you would need this,” said my new grief counselor.
Over the next couple of days, I had trouble finding myself. All those projects and dreams I’d put on hold to parent my children seemed pointless now. What were those meaningful goals I had been so eager to attend to? Writing? Reading? Exercising regularly? Learning another language? Nothing seemed to inspire me.
The weekend approached with no word from my college freshman about my lunch offer until around mid-day Saturday when she finally sent a text. “Hey Mom. Madeline left for home early this morning.”
“What? Did she ask you to join her?”
“I wasn’t up yet when she left.” I felt like she’d missed the last plane home for Christmas. My disappointment lingered and resurfaced all that morning knowing my daughter’s roommate was around the corner from us visiting her parents.
I think I went over my monthly data limit that day by exchanging non-stop text messages with my daughter. This helped me feel closer to her. By late Saturday afternoon, I had moved melancholy out and made room for relaxation next to me on the sofa. I was watching an animated film with my two younger children when I got another text. “Hey Mom. Do you think you could drive up on Sunday for the day? Take me to church? And, I need a fan.”
It was sunny in my house again. I was already packing snacks for the ride when my husband paused from his task of grilling chicken to consider the request. Our college girl rarely asks for much. Maybe it’s her pride or maybe she’s just easily satisfied. But I had already decided. I didn’t wait for a second opinion from her dad, knowing she wouldn’t ask twice. I ran to my youngest daughter, “Quick! Get the small desk fan out of your sister’s room. We’re bringing it to her tomorrow.”
I’m launching my daughter into adulthood. Not dropping her off there. Learning Italian can happen alongside loving my children. But my children will grow up and move out of the house whether I become bilingual or not. The book I’m reading, the piece I’m writing, and the Italian I’m learning will be just as compelling after I visit my daughter.
As we said goodbye to her again that next evening, I noticed she was trying to dry her hanging clothes with the fan that was leaning against a beanbag chair. The motor struggled. I told her, “Air has to flow through a fan for it to work properly.” She adjusted it. The corners of my mouth curled up a bit. We smiled at each other. Launching 3…2…1…
Kim Hedzik is a humorist both on and off the page. She writes because she failed accounting in college. She lives with her husband and their three children in an obscure location in America.