You’d think it would get easier, this facing down of another Fall semester. After all, I’ve been through it twice. What’s more, this time I carry few of the Mom-worries of her first year of college. She’s walking out my door and back into her own life a much wiser, more confident (nearly) 21-year-old—a far cry from that young girl I left standing amid a thousand freshmen on the sidewalk in front of Lever Hall.
And yet the reality of this third goodbye has left me hollow. Vacant. Carved-out.
I am thankful for this: God eased me into it this time, granting about a million reprieves. We helped her move over a week ago, you see, Tim driving the big truck to Clemson and—with the help of her awesome cousin, Julia—toting load after load after load into the apartment and up the stairs. Then the two of them headed on to Cashiers, NC, for the start of our annual Monetti Family Reunion summer vacation while Eliza and I spent the afternoon organizing drawers, arranging closets, hanging curtains. By the end of the day, her Junior Year move-in was nearly complete.
I rejoiced at not having to hug goodbye that day. Instead, she and I got in her car to make the trip to Cashiers together. I drove. She DJed. We both looked out at the mountains, singing along to our favorite new-this-summer song:
how big your brave is
It’s bonus time, I thought as I drove, these two days with my girl before she’ll make this drive back down the mountain without me. I’ll think of it as bonus time.
She was generous with me, I know that for sure, during that Eliza Time of vacation. She let me have those days on my terms. We sat in the double adirondack and watched the sun set against Chimney Top Mountain. We hiked around Hampton Lake, twice. When we all gathered for dinner in the big lodge dining room, she chose the chair right beside mine (without me even asking). Most telling, she allowed photo after photo of us together.
Then all too soon it was time for her to go, to head down the mountain to Clemson. Before she left, she came along on our group excursion to Highlands, stretching time for me once again.
We shopped, we giggled, we bought matching $3.00 macrame bracelets. And then over gigantic dripping ice cream cones, she announced to the group it was time to go.
Don’t be sad, Mom she said, hugging me quickly. I’ll see you Friday.
And so we stopped in to see her one more time on our way home, staying just long enough for Tim to build the big bookshelf to go beside her bed. And just like that, in no time at all, we were out in the driveway, hugging goodbye again.
Make good decisions I said, and we both laughed at the recitation of my stock College Departure advice for her, a line picked up from one of our favorite movies.
I will, Mom, she said, rolling her eyes just a little, as always.
Then we got in the car and pulled away, and I looked back as my baby turned to walk toward the door of her own apartment.
Tim reached for my hand, knowing from experience the tears were about to flow, knowing it was time for me to let go, knowing full well the empty that awaited me, here at home.
Knowing Junior Year had begun.