When we first announced to friends, family, and to be honest, perfect strangers who would stand still long enough for me to brag about my daughter going to Mount Holyoke, almost everyone’s response was, “Oh my! How can you send her so far away?”
There were lots of reasons: the opportunities she would be granted, the quality of the education, the adventure of living in a new state. For me, though, I knew it would be the only way to force me to let go. If she were closer, I would still try to take care of her, do everything for her, make her life easy. She’s 2000 miles away, and I can’t do that, and that is a really good thing.
So when Aubrey needed to go get a new copy of her social security card, the only thing I did was look up the closest office. I was worried it would be in Boston, and that she would try to take the train or something. Instead, it was in Holyoke, less than five miles away. She looked at the bus schedule, and discovered it would take an hour and a half each way. I asked her if she was going to ride the bus, or walk (which would be faster). Instead, she decided to ride her bike.
The only day she has enough time available to trek to the “town” from the “village” is on Fridays, when she finishes with her classes early. Unfortunately, this Friday, it was pouring down rain, but she didn’t really have a choice. If she didn’t get her card, she wouldn’t be able to keep her campus job. Ever the brave little Aubrey, she threw on her raincoat (hooray for Land’s End!), pulled on her old leather horseback riding boots in lieu of rainboots, put on her bike helmet, and set off on her way.
Suddenly, Friday afternoon, my phone rings. I was in the middle of frantic cleaning (truthfully, the directing of the frantic cleaning) for a housewarming get together, but I saw it was Aub. I pick up the phone and she immediately starts babbling in a very pissed voice that she is lost, has been up and down the hill twice, is soaking wet, stopped at a convenience store to ask directions but the cashier didn’t speak English, and she can’t find the Social Security Office; could I google it and give her directions?
I asked her where she was. “On the corner of Dwight and Elm. Walnut is behind me.” Okay…I found it. “Aub, you’re only two blocks away. just go down to High Street and turn left, and it’s right there.” “But which way do I go?” “Away from Walnut.” “But Walnut is behind me.” “Yes…so just keep going the same direction you’re currently going. Call me when you get there so I know you made it.”
Less than five minutes later, she calls to say she’s made it. She’s still pissed off that she’s wet, but she goes in, and ten minutes later, comes out with her reciept and a verification letter that she can use until she gets her card. Now she wants to know how to get to the nearest Starbucks or McDonald’s. Unlike metropolitan areas, Starbucks are harder to find in the tiny towns, but McDonald’s are everywhere, including two blocks from where she was. I gave her directions and told her to call when she got there.
It took her over half an hour, and I was starting to worry, but it turned out that when she got to McDonald’s, she went in the bathroom and used the hand dryer to get her clothes from soaked to slightly less soaked. She waited a while for the rain to let up, or at least for her thighs to stop screaming, then headed back to campus. Again, I told her to call me when she got there. It took her way less time to get back to school. Although it was uphill both ways, it was mostly downhill on the way back.
I was so incredibly proud of her. Going a little over 8 miles roundtrip to get a social security card doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is when you’re from another state, and you’ve never had to take care of governmental things like that by yourself. Ron is constantly worried whether she’s doing her homework and studying. I worry about that too, but in all honestly, I know (and I realize that this is an advantage of a private liberal arts school) that college is so much more than that.
Yes, she could have stayed here, or closer at least, and gotten a piece of paper saying she’d satisfactorily completed such and such classes in four years. But would she be able to accomplish anything above and beyond that? Over the years of my software career, I worked with so many people who had graduate degrees but were useless idiots. They couldn’t problem solve, think for themselves, question if maybe there was a better way to do something. Aubrey was already a great problem solver and self-thinker, but I babied her through the hard stuff. Problems at school? I’d make a phone call. Need a government document? I’d take care of it. Need to go to Walmart, get groceries, pick up your meds? Here are the car keys and my debit card.
She’s only been at school for less than a month. So far she’s planned her classes (with her advisor), bought her own books, joined clubs without asking me which ones did I think she should join, ordered her meds and picked them up, fixed her bike, rescued a turtle, impressed her biology professor with her immense entomological knowledge, learned that she doesn’t know everything and there is still a lot to learn, come face to face with the fact that as amazing as she is, there is stiff competition in the world.
The first week was really frustrating for her. The second week, I had to threaten to drag her ass home if she didn’t get her shit together. By the third week, it was like watching a bean start to sprout. At first, there is just dirt, with no hint of what lies beneath, but a few days later, a tiny sprig of green starts to peak out from amongst the brown. Then all of a sudden, there is an explosion of growth as that tiny sprig starts to unfurl, and leaves begin to stretch.
It was a terrifying thing to contemplate sending my daughter so far away. As thrilled as she was, she was just as nervous. Ron, ever the optimist, kept waiting for the worst. But *I* knew that Mount Holyoke was exactly where Aubrey needed to be, and where she could become the person she was meant to become. So although she is 2000 miles away, her boyfriend dumped her because she chose to leave, she knew no one on campus when she got there and the closest family friend is 90 minutes away, it has been the most exciting part of being her mom to watch her growing from a teen with a spunky attitude into a young woman of depth, self-confidence, strength, and character. And THAT is all on her.
“And that’s all on you, feeling helpless if she asked for help, or scared you’d have to change yourself
And you can’t deny this room will keep you warm. You can look out of your window at the storm.
But you watch the phone and hope it rings. You’ll take her any way she sings, or how she calls.
The beauty of the rain…
Is how it falls, how it falls, how it falls.”