Silly, silly me. I thought letting go of my daughter to attend kindergarten was hard. Back then, I could at least follow the bus, bribe a lunch lady, and rummage through her Scooby Doo backpack to find out how she was doing. (Hey desperate mothers call for desperate things.)
That was a piece of Little Debbie Cloud Cake compared to the letting go I had to do this past Labor Day Weekend. I’m not talking about letting go of my white pants and shoes for the season, though that was pretty tough. This was the hardest letting go I’ve ever had to do — I had to let my special daughter begin her life without me at college.
I’ll admit, there was a time, a very long time, when I thought that day would never come. At least that’s what the experts told me when she was first diagnosed with her disability.
“Mrs. Gallagher, she probably won’t be able to graduate high school, let alone go to college.”
“She’ll be living with you for the rest of your life.”
Of course, I made the mistake I have been so guilty of making for most of her young life; I underestimated her will. As a kid who has always wanted to “be like everybody else,” she desperately wanted to live away at college, and worked diligently toward her goal.
I’ll admit, I was scared to death at the thought of her taking on this challenge, recalling my own college experience and the struggles I had without a disability.
What if she doesn’t make friends?
What if she gets a terrible roommate?
What if she gets too homesick?
I even had painful flashbacks of my move-in day panic attack when my parents left me behind.
“Mom and Dad, don’t leave me!”
“Gina, please let go of the bumper! It’s dangerous!”
I was so homesick my first few weeks that I expected the worst for Katie. I wondered, If I had struggles without learning and social issues, how much worse would she struggle?
I prepared myself for the sobbing phone calls that I made to my parents. (“Mom and Dad I want to come home. I hate it here!”). The poor things never even had caller ID to screen those desperate calls.
But once again, I underestimated my daughter’s strength and will.
After I helped set up her room, I turned to say goodbye. She gave me a hug, a sweet smile, and said, “Bye Mom. I love you.” Then I watched her leave with her roommate and the other students to attend a dorm meeting.
After trying to keep my fears and emotions in check for Katie, I got in the car and sobbed on the way home. When I finally arrived home, I was ten pounds thinner and no longer retaining water. I found my husband, who had gone home ahead of me in a separate car, sitting on his chair in the dark.
“Mike, are you OK?”
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m just sad that she’s not here. Are you sad?”
I replied, “Yes. I’m so sad. I’m also happy, proud, worried, scared, ecstatic, hopeful, and empty. Do you know if they make a med for that?”
What was most difficult was realizing that for the first time, we would no longer know what our daughter was doing or how she was feeling. Was she scared? Sad? Lonely?
We had to force ourselves to live with that and to let her contact us when she was ready. The first evening, we didn’t hear anything from her. As highly experienced recipients of frequent bad news calls and texts from our children and their schools, we knew that this was a positive sign.
The next morning, my husband was climbing the walls. “Gene, I’m sketching on her on Facebook. I feel like a stalker. I’m dying to know how she is doing.”
“I know Mike, but you can’t do that. You’ve got to give her space. Besides, I’m Googling Nanny Cams to see if we can put one in her dorm room.”
Throughout the day, we anxiously awaited for her to contact us. Surprisingly my husband was the most anxious, “Mike, I don’t think it’s a good idea to take your phone into the shower with you.”
Around 9:00 p.m., we both finally received texts from her. She wrote, “Hi Mom and Dad. I love college. I’m making friends and I’m not coming home this weekend.”
We could not have been more thrilled… or relieved…or proud….or happy… or sad. And it made us realize that it was time for us to grow up a bit and let go. After all, it wasn’t like we didn’t have another kid — we still had her 14-year-old sister Emily to nurture, though she didn’t seem to be thrilled at that prospect.
“Dad, stop following me around the house! And Mom, get your nose out of my backpack. You guys are so sketchy!”