Made Her Bed Before I Left

At times, I got this palpable feeling that she was more than the image we had of her in our minds

On Sunday, my husband and I took our daughter back to Rutgers to start her sophomore year. Frankly, I’d been dreading the day for weeks. Not that she’d been around very much this summer; working two jobs, vacationing with friends in Rhode Island for a week, meeting up with people in every corner of our home state of New Jersey. In other words, doing her level best to show us how independent she was after only one year of living away from home. At times, I got this palpable feeling that she was more than the image we had of her in our minds: that she was still behaving like she always did, not making her bed in the mornings or curling up into the back of the couch to eat a cookie off her knee, simply to fulfill a role for our benefit. As the summer went on, I noticed she did more around the house, made impromptu dinners, ran errands. Even with all the packing she had to do, she insisted that she make her sister’s birthday cake for the party on Saturday. I kept checking her eyes for evidence of pot.

Honestly, it was worse last year. Our daughter had given my husband and me just enough worry about during her junior and senior years in high school - not so much the mistakes she made, but how she handled herself afterwards. We shook our heads at her lack of common-sense and knew she wasn’t yet ready to be on her own. I know it sounds obtuse, but we drew comfort from that knowledge, my husband and I. As if knowing she wasn’t ready meant that she wasn’t leaving. When she did leave, a panic set in, especially in me. “How can we be sure that she can cope on her own?” I used to ask my husband after shaking him awake in the middle of the night. “How’s she going to deal with living on a large campus? And why the hell is she being so stubborn about getting a double major? All that pressure! What if she gets sick?” At least at home we could tell by her face, most of the time, if something was wrong. We could needle her with questions, we could fight, we could compromise. But we no longer had that level of access. We only learned about her triumphs or her slip-ups after they’d happened, and only then at her discretion: we didn’t actively participate in her life anymore. That was the worst feeling of all. But we learned to cope. We learned to accept her decisions, even when she didn’t follow our advice. What else could we do?

She chose her housing for this year after a lot of research, and the place wasn’t half bad, much better than her freshman dorm. A townhouse-type set up with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen with a large dining area. It would still be two to a room: she was rooming with the same girl as last year, her good friend from high school. But it was still so tiny. With each armload of stuff the bedroom filled up, until we could barely walk around each other. Our daughter is not a neatnick. She would probably stumble around those piles for days. As she and my husband went down to get yet more out of the trunk of the car, I said I would make up the bed. I expected her to stop me - to take this offer as a criticism on her ability to take care of herself, as she’d done on so many occasions. But she didn’t do that. She just shrugged and said “sure, thanks”, and went out the door. All the while I was making up her bed in that stuffy little room, I kept wondering why she hadn’t reacted the way I’d expected.

When they came back, I commented that even if she got too tired to deal anything else that night, at least she’d have a place to lie down. My daughter’s eyes lit up as she cracked this huge smile - the most open, genuine smile I’d seen from her in years - and she wrapped her arms around me. “Thanks, mom.” she said. There wasn’t a trace of resentment in her voice, a reaction she had a habit of falling into whenever we voiced an opinion or made a suggestion, only simple appreciation for my foresight. In that moment, the girl in my arms transformed from an adolescent to a young woman. Somewhere within the past year, she’d grown up enough to not resent people doing things for her. Which meant that she could now do for herself or for someone else – someday, maybe even for her own daughter. It breaks my heart somehow to write this, but I know that our daughter will be fine. I know - and I don’t even need to see her face.

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