In the blink of an eye, Katie's freshman year of college is over. She came home last Saturday and it's so hard to wrap my mind around the fact that her first year of college is over. Incredible.
In the week or so leading up to her homecoming, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my experience over the course of the last 9 months. The range of emotions and my experience adjusting to this new stage of parenting is incredibly varied.
The first two weeks were spent in perpetual thought of her. I was constantly thinking of reasons to call her. I found myself on her Facebook page (something I hadn't done much of in the past) just to see if I could glean any information about what her days were like. And when I did find something I obsessed about whether I should comment. Would she think I was stalking her (I was) or would she feel bad that her mom wasn't wishing her good luck on her first college math test? What to do? I was wracked with indecision and angst. It was a rough two weeks. The good news is that she called and texted often. So I did have a sense of how she was doing. The bad news is that a lot of our conversations were about things that were worrying or upsetting her. So then I was worried and upset. And of course by the time we next spoke, the crises was long over - for her. That was difficult lesson to learn.
After the first couple of weeks, I really felt that I had adjusted to having my first child out of the nest. But I was wrong. Without realizing it, I was a total wreck. I knew I felt a little "off" and I craved a retreat of some sort, but I wasn't connecting it to Katie's departure. I was fortunate enough to arrange a week long getaway in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. I went with a friend in a similar situation and we spent our time in quiet contemplation and exploration of the surrounding area. We even spent one night taking turns talking about issues that were weighing on our minds. It felt good to get it all out. But my real relief came after my friend left (she had to get back) and I had a day and a half to myself. I drove to the top of a mountain, hoping to climb the observation tower for a view of the valley. The tower was closed for the season (it was late October), but I decided to explore a little on my own. After walking around a bit, I sat on a low stone wall, overlooking the valley below and without warning all my emotions rushed to the surface and I began to quietly weep - releasing all the pent up emotion of the previous weeks and even months of Katie's leave taking. Another solo visitor saw me sitting there and approached me and asked me if she could pray with me. Not being a religious person, I politely declined her heartfelt and generous offer. But her care and concern touched me deeply. Despite my lack of religious belief, I do believe she was there for a reason. I will never forget that moment or her kindness. It was certainly a defining moment for me.
And it wasn't just I who was changing. Thanksgiving was a difficult visit for Katie and me. She was difficult and demanding and I regretted the tone of that visit. I was apprehensive as winter break approached. Five weeks is a long time. I hoped it would not be a repeat of Thanksgiving. And it wasn't. I noticed in change in Katie. She was less combative and more cheerful. It was a great visit. And each subsequent visit - a weekend in February, spring break in March and Easter weekend - proved to be fairly positive. Still I was concerned about summer. Three months is a long time. Could we all live harmoniously? It's a big transition to live on your own at college to re-assimilating back into family life. Would it go smoothly? Would we all be at odds with each other? How would the family dynamic change? Would it change?
I think it's too soon to answer these questions. The first few days that Katie was home I noticed a concerted effort on her part to be amenable and cheerful. It seemed as though perhaps she had grown up some while away at college. But signs of our old tensions and struggles are starting to appear now. I sense her struggling to fit back into the new family dynamic that has emerged while she has been away. I can tell she feels a little out of place. I am struggling with this. How do I make the necessary adjustments that she seems to require, when I'm unable to anticipate or recognize what she wants from me? And what if what she wants is unrealistic? I think there are more adjustments to be made as I navigate this new stage in parenthood. Perhaps I'm going to have to find another mountaintop to visit before the summer is over.