Thoughts on a daughter going to college

Oh, Grace.  Next week we drive to Washington to drop you at college.  In some ways, you “left” already, so I am not in the same skinless-crying-unable-to-cope place I was 4 years ago.  But this is still a transition, and an almighty one.

My father wrote me a long letter when I started college.  I treasure it.  He also drove me there, and I will never forget weeping in the parking lot of my dorm and begging him not to leave me.

Rather than a long missive of paragraphs, I have a few bullet point reminders of what I hope you will remember next year and beyond.  I am sure most of this will go in one ear and out the other, but I mean it, and I hope some of it floats to your mind now and then.

  • Get enough sleep.  I know, I know, I’m SUCH A MOM.  But it’s true.
  • Also enough water and exercise, and some vegetables now and then.  I know you know this stuff matters.
  • Stop drinking before you think you should.  There is so much to live and experience, and you don’t want to waste it either blacked out or hung over.  I’m not saying don’t drink.  I’m just saying learn when to stop and it’s probably before you think you should.
  • Write stuff down.  Take pictures.  The latter I know you’ll do.  The former, I suggest you try to.  Some memories and moments can’t be captured in photos or videos.
  • Call and text me.  Pretty sure you will, but I am always interested in what’s going on.
  • Figure out what calms you down – a walk, a run, a book (that’s mine), a nap, some deep breathing.  Use as required.
  • Proceed with caution in matters of the heart.  It’s easy to get hurt.  On the other hand, trusting and loving is the path to a full life. But go slow.  Be careful.
  • Stay open to the boys who aren’t immediately obvious as the cool ones.  Remember what Poppy always told me: “the nerds shall inherit the earth.”
  • Try to stay flexible.  I know this trait since you got it from me, but so much of what I see making you sad has to do with when things don’t go according to plan.  Try to remember things can be not what you expected and still great.  Sometimes plans change.  It’s not always bad.
  • Look after each other.  Have a wingwoman when you go out and don’t leave without each other.  This is important.
  • Live it.  I know you know I love that Blake Shelton song, and I also know you know the tattoo I might get somedays says “be here now.”  These years fly by.  Try to be there.

Time has flown.

You are launched.

I am so proud of you I can’t stand it.

I adore you.

On Grace’s graduation

On Saturday night we celebrated Grace’s high school graduation.  This is the toast I gave.

 

When you were a small child, I used to talk about your being “smart and brave.” My dear friend Gloria, Whit’s godmother, reminded me of this a few years ago when she had a daughter. I’ve thought a lot about that exhortation over the years and I don’t know that it really captures my goals. The smart, I believe, is innate and therefore less a goal than something we just have and deal with. The brave is not inconsequential. The brave is the key.

Bravery is correlated with grit and determination and resilience and hard work.  All the buzz words of parenting these days, all things I hope for you and, more germane to this toast, all things I observe in you.  Bravery is about looking forward with optimism, about believing that the world will respond to a positive
attitude and hard work. It’s about assuming the best of people. It’s about giving things a second try, which you wrote your college essay about.

The story that I think encapsulates you the best over the last few years is one I think you’re tired of, but I’m going to tell it anyway. It was cross-country New Englands of your sophomore year at Deerfield. You guys were the returning champions, having won the year before. There was a lot of attention on your team and a heavy load of expectation. A couple of hundred meters after the start, another runner accidentally flat-tired you and your shoe came off. You stumbled, fixed your shoe, and got back up again. You were in dead last of the competitive group and you never one time, as far as I can tell, thought about quitting. Instead you gritted your teeth and took over a lot of runners over the next 3 miles. It wasn’t the race or finish you wanted, but I believe it showed who you are.

You’re made of grit, my girl, brave through and through, and performances like that one show you a lot more about how to build a life than when things go smoothly. The road ahead is dazzling, and I can’t wait to watch you walk – or run – it. But I know there will be other stumbles and bumps, and I also know you’ll greet them with your characteristic determination, good humor, and hard work.  I’ve seen you do it before – your Deerfield years were replete with opportunities to show your grit, from losing both of you grandfathers in your first 2 months there to the receiving of all your college decisions while alone in a house with covid.  And a million episodes in between.  This is how you make a path, how you greet the day, how you move forward, how you surround yourself with joy.

It is literally impossible for me to be prouder of you. Thank you for making me a mother. You’ll always be the person who did that, my Amazing Grace who arrived after 40+ hours of labor in the driving downpour. It was the last time, as I’ve often joked, that you were late.  I have loved you every day since then, and I will every day to come.

Congratulations.

Eighteen years old

Dear Grace,

Wow.  To say I’m speechless is an understatement.  Today you are eighteen.  It feels like yesterday that I wrote about 10 things I wanted you to know when you turned 10.  I recently followed up with 10 things I wanted you to take with you into your young adulthood.  When your childhood ended.  And today we stand on that threshold.

I know this is not the eighteenth birthday you had in mind.  This is not the senior year you had in mind.  There have been a great many things you’ve had to let go of: events and traditions you’d anticipated, expectations you had held.  I know.  There is a lot of loss there.  I know you are sick of my reminding you that it could be worse.

But unlike many people bemoaning the anxious and depressed children we are creating, I believe this experience will instead foster a generation of resilient young adults who are bonded in ways we don’t totally understand yet.  You know in a deep, profound way that we are not entirely in control of this world, and that what we do impacts others.  We belong to each other, and how we act has an effect that goes far beyond our immediate environment.  What vital lessons these are, even though learning them is not fun right now.

I am so proud of how you have responded to this year of challenge, Grace.  I am so proud of the young woman you have grown into.  You are not afraid of hard work and you know that the only way out is through, a refrain we repeat to each other regularly.  You have learned from experiences, some difficult, to be careful who you trust, but at the same time you have not lost your warmth and openness.  You know that actions mean far more than words.  You know how to see the silver lining, the bright side, the sunset out the window or the smile on the face of a teammate.  You aren’t immune to heartbreak and difficulty, but neither are you swamped by them.  Bravo, dear girl.

School is different academically this year, with only two classes per term (rather than five all year).  That means you take AP Calculus in 10 weeks, for example, but your good spirit and focus on learning and hard work hasn’t wavered.  School is different in other ways, too, and you suffered a big blow when your dearest friend did not come back.  Nevertheless, you settled into your room, made it your own, and have made the best of this unconventional, unexpected fall.

This is your fifth year of varsity cross-country, and your second year as captain.  There won’t be a triumphant New Englands to cap off your running career, but I’m nonetheless heartened to see how you have stepped into leadership of the younger runners, adjusting to this new world and a new coach too.

All of these experiences, all different than you expected, with the same lesson: commitment goes a long way.  I firmly believe that when things are difficult our true self comes out.  Your true self is occasionally daunted but willing to take a deep breath, to look at the horizon, and to do what’s necessary to get there.  I could not be prouder of what I’ve seen, Gracie, in this last rocky season and in the last 18 years, both.

In the last few days I have seen you fall truly head over heels in love with our newest family member, our puppy, Phoebe.  You’ve adored animals from the very start – for a long time you wanted to be a vet – and she is as passionately connected to you already as you are to her.

Next stop, college, and from there, the world.  I have said before, and it remains true, that watching you and Whit take flight is the single most important and joyful thing in my life.  It was a ridiculous, unexpected privilege to have you at home this past spring, a bonus term with you at home that I did not think we’d get.  You and I are a lot alike and sometimes we butt heads, but I hope you know deep in your marrow how profoundly you are loved.  You will always be my first baby, the person who made me a mother.  It will always be my pregnancy with you that was so smooth, at whose midpoint I heard the word “grace,” who was born when your terminally ill grandfather awaited his heart transplant, who arrived in a rainstorm and made us a family.  I’m grateful that you’ve taught me how to be a mother, and for the patience and tolerance and forgiveness you’ve shown me along the way.  I loved you when I met you, I love you now, and I’ll love you forever.

Happy eighteenth birthday, Grace,

Mum

 

Seventeen

Dear Grace,

Next Saturday you turn seventeen.  I know. Such a cliche, the disbelief I feel, and such a deep truth, too.  It feels like a month ago you were born (2002), and like a week ago I started writing this blog (2006), because I wanted to capture details about you and your brother.  All those years, collapsed into a slurry of bright colors and joyful memories, the difficult moments mostly faded, though I know they were there. Hundreds of days – thousands! – whose details have faded but whose sense memories remain: laughter, love, notice-things walks, long drives to and from games, errands, card games, reading together, trips to Crane’s Beach, and a million more things I can’t list.

This is your third year at boarding school.  We miss you when you are gone and love when you are home, but we know you are in the right place.  It’s a joy to watch you flourish.  You were the one who wanted to explore boarding schools and who chose to go, and it’s been an unequivocal win.  You grow every year in maturity and independence.  Junior year is no joke.  This is a stressful season, there’s no question about it . But you are handling things with your characteristic organization and willingness to work hard.  That ability to understand what needs to happen and to grind to get it done will stand you in good stead in the world.  I know it will.

My sincere hope is that among all the AP classes and varsity sports and SAT prep and other commitments you can find pockets of time to simply be a teenager.  Your natural inclination towards hard work and prioritizing effort and accomplishment can sometimes occlude opportunities for delight.  Believe me, I relate to this tendency, to both its advantages and its downsides.

This is your fourth year running varsity cross-country, and your first as a captain.  I know it’s felt like a lot, and that you are frustrated by how hard it feels this year (physically and psychologically), but I applaud your good nature and willingness to keep at it even when there are so many competing demands on your time.  You are a leader on the team and we watch that with tremendous pride.  Keep at it.  Your team is different this year, I know, but it’s full of strong runners and there’s something to be gained from every experience.  You demonstrate real grit in the way you accept the ways things are different and continue focusing ahead.  This is one of many ways you inspire me.

There are many difficult-to-describe attributes that contribute to a happy life, but I think at the top of the list is likely who we choose as friends and companions.  This is an area where you shine.  I am impressed by the people you have chosen to be close to.  Dad and I have enjoyed meeting their parents who are, like their children, wonderful.  In both middle and high school you’ve navigated challenging social waters with self-knowledge and grace.  I know it’s not always easy, but I am so proud of the way you have chosen solid, trustworthy, dedicated, interesting people to be close to you.  By the way you haven’t let the sometimes overwhelming, sometimes confusing social currents overwhelm you.  I don’t think this – the selection of who we hold dear – is a trait that people note much but I think it’s vital to the future and I think you make excellent choices.

You’re on your way already, I know that.  You are a young woman, with a driver’s license and your own ideas about what you want and what matters to you.  It is the honor of my life to be yours and Whit’s mother, and as much as I miss your younger days, I love the young adult you’ve become and watch with anticipation as you step into your glittering future.  I’m always going to be here, watching from the wings, rooting for you even when I can’t see you (the cross-country metaphor, which extends now to the fact that you live outside of our home).  I know how hard you are working.  I want you to know that you are already enough.  You are already incredible.  Dad and I are watching you fly, speechless with pride and love.

To the girl who made me a mother, to my dream-come-true daughter, I love you, now and always.

Mum

Previous birthday letters to Grace are here: sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six.

College tours

Over the course of the last three weeks, Grace and I made three separate trips to visit a total of 13 colleges.  As we planned these trips (with precision, I might add!) several people told me how important these experiences had been to them.  These were from all perspectives: people reflecting on college trips they had taken with their parents, parents remembering special visits with their teenagers, and people just slightly older than me who’ve recently done this.

And all three trips – Philadelphia, Connecticut, and Virginia/DC – were absolutely marvelous.  Chock-full of memories and laughter and the occasional bickering too.  Just because we are regular people.  We visited a couple of dear friends but largely kept that to a minimum so that we could just be the two of us.

We danced with the past, the present, and the future these last few weeks, in different, complicated, and lovely ways.

More than once I had the kaleidoscopic, dizzying feeling of time contracting and of my own teenage self walking alongside my adult self and my teenage daughter.  My father in particular was so viscerally present while we toured my alma mater and his that I positively ached for him.

We were quite adamantly present.  I did some work in the afternoons and evenings, yes, and we stayed with two of Grace and Whit’s three godmothers, but mostly we spent a lot of time alone.  We went for runs in spectacular nature preserves, explored unfamiliar towns, tried new restaurants, passed many hours driving, got a little bit lost, experienced two major rain squalls, and took a lot of selfies.

Most of all, though, these three weeks made me aware in a new way of the future.  All of a sudden I can see and sense the years that lie ahead for Grace – the years that were some of the most cherished and formative in my own life – and they are dazzlingly bright.  I feel excited about the experiences that lie just over the threshold for her.  She has two more years of high school, and this future isn’t here yet, but she – and I – feel suddenly aware of it in a new and tangible way.  Like all transitions, this one is bittersweet (holding within it as it does her departure from our home – though, in many ways, that’s already happened), but the truth is it’s far more sweet than bitter.  I’m just plain old excited for her.  It didn’t escape me that the two women we stayed with – two of my very dearest friends – are people I met when I was in boarding school and college.  She’s building relationships and laying down memories now that she’ll have for the rest of her life, and that fact makes me happy.

I shared many photos of our tour on Instagram, and for the next month I’ll only be there.  Happy end of summer, all.