We are on our way up to college orientation.
The O-Dawg has been snippy and brittle the whole ride. I know what this means, no matter how much she will deny it... and she will.
I make light and happy conversation, talking about the days to come, the fun she will have and how much I wish we could switch places. And I mean that. Please... Five buck massages, a rock-climbing wall, cheese fries any time I have a hankering. My only obligations in life: to make passing grades and not drink so much beer that I puke all over myself in public. (Well, that last part would be me, not, of course, my daughter.)
I try to fill up the car with talk punctured with smiley faces, but O-Dawg has none of it, grumbling and muttering in the back seat, words I know, words I don't want to hear.
She is scared. More scared than she has ever been. And there has been a lot of scared in her life.
She was born, clinging to me. One of those kids. Her shyness has been a fierce battle for all the days of her young life. During the first two weeks of pre-school, every morning, I pried her little hand, finger by finger from mine, as she sobbed, "Mommy, I want to stay with you. Please don't leave me."
The rest of my mornings those first weeks, were spent in my car, sobbing twice as hard as her, after I walked away leaving her there with a brave smile plastered on my face and a wave and a, "You Can Do This!"
I have spent all her days since then, unclenching our hands and telling her, "You Can Do This!"
Nothing has been harder for me. Nothing has been harder for her to overcome.
She wet her pants every day of the first grade, so shy she couldn't bear the thought of raising her hand to ask the teacher if she could go to the bathroom.
The only time I dared peek in on her at recess time, the sight was heartbreaking. She was four years old. She sat alone on a swing, while the other kids played and ran and laughed and shouted all around her. Too little to be able to master the mechanics of swinging herself, she sat there, still and alone, watching the world go by.
And every day of her life, from preschool up until the first few days of high school, I never asked when she hopped in the car at the end of the day, "How was your day?" or "Did you make good grades?"
The question was always the same, "Did you make a friend today?"
It seemed a lifetime went by before the answer was yes.
Along the way, she found relief from her shyness in dancing. At first, a little girl, in a fluffy pink tutu charming us all with her rudimentary dance steps and somewhere along the way, morphing into a soaring, twirling, pirouetting, on-her-toes ballerina with leaps so high, they were breathtaking.
The dancing brought her onto the high school football fields every Friday night where she performed in front of a stadium full of high school kids and fans, her leaps bringing cheers from the audience. And I would always wipe away a tear, undone at the sight of her, whispering to myself, "Look at your girl now." Only she and I, really knowing how bravely she had come to this victory.
High school brought her to the camera and observing life through a lens, a barrier of sorts, a place of comfort for her.
High school also brought happiness and friends and a day-by-day sameness that gave her comfort and confidence.
But, now we are here, driving towards the last letting go, the last time I will have to unclench her hand.
The grumbles begin to turn into snipes and her father will have none of this. He commands her in his stern Dad voice, enough of this nonsense and reassures her, that she is going to be just fine.
It is her father's reprimand that brings the tears, the real fear that has been festering in her the whole ride, the whole summer, her whole life.
This young woman begins to sob, mopping frantically at the tears as they flow, so as not to mess up her makeup and wails, "But, what if I have to eat lunch all by myself? I don't want to eat lunch alone! I don't want to go! I want to stay home with you!!!"
My Hubby clenches my hand, knowing I need that squeeze, knowing that this is maybe even more difficult for me than her.
He reassures her in his calm, steady voice that she is going to be fine. I tell her a little more wobbly than him, that yes, she is going to be fine.
And after we talk her down and she puts on her Ipod, sniffling here and there, I don't turn around, so she can see my tears, so she can see that this might just be the one time, I may not have the strength to unclench my hand from hers.
We spend the night at a hotel and wake up in the morning before the dawn, for a full day. Parents and children in separate orientations. We will not be able to see her until 5:00 that evening. Our day is filled with facts and figures and information overload. My notebook is crammed full and my head is swimming and before I know it, I'm checking the time, it's 30 minutes until I see her, 15...5... and they release us to find our children. I bolt out the door, leaving The Hubby who is mulling over tuition fees, into a lobby brimming with kids and parents reuniting. I can't find her and I call her cell phone over and over again. She is lost. I know it. In a panic, searching for us. She is so small and I know I'm missing her and I'm getting a little edgy and panicked and so I begin to push my way through the crowd, resenting all the reunited families in my way. She is not here and the lobby is full and it seems like every single kid is there except for mine.
The Hubby joins me and I tell him I can't find her and he tells me to relax and just as I'm about ready to snap at him, she emerges with a casual and happy, "Hey!"
I swoop her up and ask her where she's been and she tells me that she's been talking to all her new friends, her new friends! on the way over to the lobby. She says she's already made a new friend with the same first name as her best friend at home and that she's a film major, too and that in her usual, delightful, frank O-Dawg fashion, she told her new friends at lunch that her biggest fear was that she would have to eat alone. And she now has all her new friends' phone numbers plugged into her cell and they have reassured her, if she is ever alone, to call. They will come eat lunch with her.
And before I know it, the 20 minutes they have allotted for us to have with our children is gone and she whooshes away, tolerating a kiss as she goes.
We go to dinner and I am feeling like this will not kill me after all. After the long day, the college is having a social for the kids. It is the only function in this next few days that is not mandatory. I told The Hubby when we saw the schedule that morning, I was going to force her into going. But, now their day is over, the social has already begun and she has not even called to protest. I relax and drink some wine and when we are through, we go to pick her up. We are a little late and I am panicked, but it is not until we pull into the college that she calls and says, casually, "Hey, where are you guys? Almost everyone else's parents have picked them up."
"I am here." I say. "I am here."
And she breezes into the car and the chatter is endless as she tells us, "The clubs all had displays and I signed up for everything, even the Polynesian Dance Club! And Mom, they have a Chocolate Club! And I talked to The Dancerettes, but they start practice at 7:00 AM and like, I'm in college now, and I do NOT want to wake up that early. And this guy, came over to me and asked me if I was interested in being on the rowing team, that the men's rowing teams are looking for girls like me. I guess, like they need, small girls for their boats who can yell out commands and stuff."
And her father mumbles, "Yeah, that's not a good idea."
And I say, "Honey, that sounds like a wonderful idea. I think you'd be really good at the yelling commands stuff. I know your sisters would agree."
And she is texting the whole time she is bubbling over and I ask her, "Who are you texting?"
And she says, "All my new friends."
It is the next morning and she meets up with her new friend. Her new friend is bubbly and outgoing and unbelievably, shorter than the O-Dawg. She is exactly what the O-Dawg needs. And they walk away from me, tiny girls their shoulders bumping together, certain friends, already.
At noon, the kids are released to have lunch with their families. Families mill about me as I wait for her call.
As parents and kids reunite around me, my phone rings, and it is her, saying, "Hey Mom. We just registered for classes and we don't have a lot of time and do you mind, if I eat lunch with my friends?"
And I don't mind. I don't, as I let go of her hand for good.
Postscript: If it seems that I am writing more about the O-Dawg lately than the rest of the crew, you would be correct. I just want to put it out there that it's not because I love the O-Dawg any more than the rest of them, it's just that her leaving has been a heavy presence on my heart and I have always been the kind of girl who works out her life through her words.
As soon as she goes, those other two won't stand a chance!
In fact, just the other night, my girls went to dinner with their cousin. As is our family's fashion, they went around the European hour of dining, about 8:30ish. By 9:50, they weren't home yet and I called my Victoria knowing she would be the most likely to pick up her cell. I asked her where they were and with a heavy sigh, she said, "We're on the road coming to our house. You know Mom, we've been gone only about an hour. You're kind of a little crazy with the overprotectiveness."
I smiled into the phone, knowing what was coming, knowing what this girl, ready to charge into high school with her funky, yellow heels and floral mini-skirts would do to me, "You're going to kill me, aren't you?"
She laughed and said, "I've already told you, I'm not gonna be at home as much as Olivia and you need to get used to that."
A whole different set of problems.
I'll let you know which one tears my heart out more.
Today's Dooo Ittt Download: Oh, how I love this song! It's one of my favorite, "make me happy" songs. "Best of My Love" by The Emotions. It brings back to my first days of high school, where everything was fresh and exciting and I knew, as I danced to this song, that my life had just begun. Olivia, my Darling, Darling Love, you have and will always have The Best of My Love. Go out and slay your college years with fun and laughter and dancing and joy and hopefully, please, good grades. You can do this!