Time to Let Her Fly: My Last Leaves the Nest

Originally posted August 9, 2019

My daughter is headed off to college in less than a week.

This experience is not unfamiliar. I’ve done it twice before with each of my sons. Scary, wondrous, painful and exciting all at the same time, watching your kids take flight is both exhilarating and bittersweet. It can make you burst with pride and crush your soul all at once. And while I don’t love one child more than another (There is no “more” when love is infinite), this goodbye is different. And this goodbye is going to be rough. After all, it’s the end of the primary parenting experience. No more PTA meetings, teacher conferences, soccer games, swim meets, band competitions, sleepovers, dances, mac and cheese nights, talent shows, cupcakes for the holiday party, gym uniforms, lunch accounts, 2 a.m. fevers, 6 a.m. snuggles … O.V.E.R.

My daughter’s arrival on the scene nearly 18 years ago was the universe’s attempt to balance the household mojo. For all the chaos that comes with two little boys, she is the easygoing calm addition. For all the anxiety within our four walls, she is often the Zen. This young woman is committed and kind and funny and confident and all the things you want for your kids to grow into. No one is perfect and neither is she, but she’s got a larger circle of friends than I’ve ever been able to keep. I know she loves them and they love her back.

She’s all these things and that’s great. But she’s also my grocery shopping partner. My “Let’s check the shoe clearance room at Von Maur” partner. My trash TV partner. My ice cream, cupcake and homemade guac partner. My occasional dogwalking partner. The one I can look to when her dad – my husband – points to the most heinous color or pattern for a potential home decorating purchase and I can say, “Is he for real?” and she will nod in agreement with me.

Without her home, my world tilts back toward a testosterone imbalance. Even the dog and cats are male. It’ll be a steady stream of nothing but golf, baseball and “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” on TV. Who is going to Netflix “Queer Eye” with me?

I am going to MISS THIS GIRL. I have learned as much from her about being a good human as I hopefully have taught her about that exact same thing. My sons taught me about strength and fortitude and the infinite capacity of unconditional love, and she is the personification of those lessons.

So, my sweet girl, my advice to you as you embark on your next chapter …

Know and embrace your self-worth. College will be, at least for a while, a strange land with few familiar faces. Don’t doubt your value in the face of those that may question it, whether it be classmates, floormates, teachers or mentors. Without immediate backup in the form of friends and family, you’ll need to trust your gut and know that, whatever the situation, you can do this. Go ahead, fly that freak flag when you want to and wear those crazy socks.

Embrace healthy skepticism. For the first time in your life, you’ll be making decisions on what to do, where to go, and who to believe on your own. It never hurts to ask questions and collect information before and after a gut check. Teachers aren’t always right and the guy running the keg at a frat party is usually wrong.

Never put yourself or drink down. Self-deprecation is a really crappy defense mechanism. You are no one’s wingman. And if you do leave an open drink out, throw it away and get a new one. I am not kidding.

Own your choices. If someone does spike your drink, or knocks you out, or kidnaps you from your dorm room in the dead of night, that’s one thing. But most of the time, we exercise some level of jurisdiction over our circumstances. If you cede that, it’s not giving permission for others to take advantage of you, but you’ve put yourself in a position where it is much more difficult to maintain control.

Understand the strength that is resilience. You will be knocked down. Get up. That scares assholes more than anything else – the realization they can’t keep you off your feet.

Open yourself up to new experiences. A Humans Vs. Zombies club. Journalism Student Council. Disc Golf. Improv. I had a fantastic time in college, but I wonder what more I could have done to enhance my time there. Try to say “yes” as often as possible. (But never to the guy running the keg. Nope.)

Remember exactly how special you are. There is only one of you in this world, my beautiful and amazing daughter. Just one. Never forget what Neil deGrasse Tyson said: “The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.

Go get ’em, girl.

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