The Tug - How One Mom Feels When Sending Her Daughter to College

by Barrie Page Hill --

I feel The Tug before it happens.

Like a boat, bobbing on the water, the vessel straining to break free of its moorings.

I feel The Tug before it happens.

A bouquet of bright balloons fighting for freedom; A gust of wind sending them skyward, dancing, just out of reach.

Yes, I feel The Tug before it happens.

A magnet pulled toward another; A force too strong to fight.

I’m sitting behind the steering wheel, and feel my daughter slip just a little farther away with each mile marker. We are on a road trip across this big, beautiful state of ours. The car trunk is crammed; the backseat, a mishmashed mound of clothes, tangled hangars and a wrought iron chandelier adorned with multi-colored prisms that flash colored rainbows across the car. When we saw it on our back-to-school shopping foray, my daughter declared it “perfection,” and we carted it home, adding it to the growing pile of Dorm Room Essentials. Now, it’s stowed alongside the monogrammed laundry bag, spiral notebooks, new comforter and framed pictures of friends, waiting to be hung in some place of honor, befitting this marvel of dorm room chic. I fear I have exposed my daughter to too many episodes of HGTV.

We’ve had a marvelous summer, me and this kid of mine. I am grateful to share a special relationship with her that only moms with daughters will completely understand. She is my only daughter — My only child. She has been both blessed – and cursed – to be doted on by parents who marvel at her compassion, intelligence and Old Soul maturity. Like all parents, we are proud of our child’s accomplishments, her responsible nature and her choice of colleges. Like all parents, it’s still hard to let go.

I’ve seen – and felt – this inevitable Tug gradually over the last few days. My daughter had the car gassed up, packed up and ready to roll by the time I got off work. She was ready to put miles – and home – in the rear view window. Yes, this road trip has been full of laughs and travel tales, pit stops and rest stops, and I’m glad I’m the one taking my kid to college instead of her Dad. I’m glad I’m the one getting to share these special memories before she slams the car door shut on summer.

I feel the shift though — this Tug that takes her, claiming her like the tide. The closer we get to her college, the stronger this invisible pull becomes. My daughter becomes less enamored of our road trip shenanigans, more impatient. She wants to stop less, get there quicker. Conversations are less animated, more stilted. She is distracted, distant. Mile by mile, The Tug is taking her.

She is texting more — her college chums already letting her know what she is missing, who is going to dinner with whom, what parties are planned for the short hours before classes begin. I feel The Tug before it happens.

I know, too, that this is how it should be. This is natural, normal, and — rationally — I know we will both survive this rite of passage that takes my daughter far from home. She is growing up; becoming her own self, apart from being our daughter, my baby. This is as it should be, and I am proud of the person my daughter is becoming; I know I have to let go and let her live the life she is meant to have.

As her mom, I worry, and my heart aches at the dangers yet to come. She will make mistakes. She will stumble and fall. She will meet kind people and mean people and — though we warn her — we cannot protect her from all that life will fling at her. I feel like I did when my daughter learned to ride her bike. Reluctantly, I let go of the bike seat and watch her wobble away. But I let her ride, knowing too well of the inevitable spills and scrapes that will follow.

Though I am afraid, I have to trust that my daughter will remember our words, consider our advice and realize that we were young once too; that we once walked the same path, and that, we, too, have faltered. As our child, we want to spare her some of our mistakes, some of our pain. As parents, we want to protect our children and tell cautionary tales, offer advice when none is sought. As parents, we arm our children as best we can and end them out into the world. We let go of the bicycle seat and pray.

My hope is that my daughter will find her way, guided by a light that always shines and a heart that instinctively knows the path. I hope her life is full of love and beauty, kindness and miracles. I hope she knows little of life’s dangers, hurts and dark places. The palatable and powerful Tug reminds me that I must let her go. I let go of my grasp, let the balloonsfloat into the vast, blue sky. I untie the ropes, and the boat drifts from the safety of the harbor to chart a new course. The magnetic pull of adulthood is claiming my child, and I let her go. Once again, I let go of the bicycle seat and pray.

Barrie Page Hill with daughter Brenna when she was a Trinity student.
I settled my daughter into her dorm. I helped her hang her clothes and put away books. I watched as she positioned her bed under the window so she could look out into the treetops. But this year, I did not stay to hang pictures or rearrange furniture. I did not stay to make mad-dash Target runs for Command hooks and laundry pods. I didn’t offer to take my daughter and her friends out for dinner. My daughter is a capable young adult. She and her friends are reunited, and she is settling back into college life. Instead, I kissed my daughter goodnight, went to my hotel and left her to catch up with her friends. They made their own dinner plans. I clicked the lock, put up the Do Not Disturb sign and settled for a long bath and a longer cry.

On the ride back home, the seat next to me was empty and gaping. I missed my daughter’s chatter, the silly jokes, our conversations. Instead, I watched the trees and cars blur past and thought of my daughter, settled into her dorm as a new semesters’ classes start tomorrow. She will have a wonderful fall full of football games, pizza parties, study sessions and class assignments. I will greedily gobble up her calls, texts and letters home as she shares her news, her life.

The Tug has happened. And it’s going to be okay. It is as it should be.

If you're a Trinity parent, make sure to check out the parent webpage for resources and ways to engage.

About Barrie

A former print and broadcast reporter, Barrie blogs to document her experience as primary caregiver to her mom, who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. I find writing cathartic and find it helps me order some of the chaos of my cluttered life, as she navigates the New Normal of living with a family member tormented by this devastating disease. Her daughter, Brenna Hill '17, graduated from Trinity in May. This post originally appeared on her blog in 2014. View all posts by barriepagehill →


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