I had thought that the last two years would protect me from the feelings that arise when your youngest child heads off to college. She had spent half of the first year following high school living at home, working two jobs in order to pay her way to a South African volunteer position in an elementary school. After those four months, she travelled through Europe for several weeks with a friend she had met while volunteering.
There were long stretches when we did not hear from her, and I could see the fabric of her independence taking shape, along with a thirst to explore the world, get to know people of different cultures. I trained myself to understand silences as time when she was taking a jaunt outside the city, or within. I learned that the sweep of parental concern is not bound by time zones or country borders. Her return from this trip produced a desire to attend college in “a more central location,” which to her, in an English speaking place, meant Scotland. We had laughed. Central? Central how? But having friends now scattered around Europe, and having experienced the bus-like ease of air travel in Europe, Scotland now felt like an appealing base from which to study.
This meant reapplication to University and a cashing in of her already deferred acceptance to Connecticut College. It also meant a second year off because Scottish universities demand SAT subject tests which Conn had not. Working half the year on Martha’s Vineyard to fund her travels in the spring to New Zealand determined that being a couple of hours away on an island off the coast of Cape Cod felt close by, and being across the world and eighteen hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time was another lesson in establishing trust that she could both support and take care of herself.
Given all this training, university in Scotland seemed like it should feel nearby —almost like being in California, but the other direction, right?
We created a family vacation just before the start of Freshers week, with our older daughter flying up from Colombia to meet us. Together we delighted in the the Edinburgh Castle, the dramatic Scottish highlands and historic St. Andrews before move-in day, when we all trooped up the four flights of stairs to Kate’s new flat. We busied ourselves with procuring necessities while she unpacked: pillow, laundry basket, a few plates and cups, and met her friend, now a senior at Edinburgh, for dinner. More walking and then it was time for us to get back to our bed and breakfast across town.
Tears leaked from my eyes as we hugged first one daughter and then the other. Gale was returning for several more months in Columbia, at least, and Kate was beginning four years in Scotland. It is not fear; it is not worry. They have established their capability and delight in being where they are and proven how resourceful they can be in challenging times. We can connect by phone, take advantage of Skype and What’s App when the opportunities arise, and service exists. Email and Facebook are available points of connection.
It is the being together, the laughs that come from speaking at the same time, the connections from looking at the same piece of art, tasting the same new foods that I will miss. We will always have visits, and I will love them wherever and whenever they happen. I am so proud of the women they are and continue to evolve into, but two years of having our daughters in far away places did not inoculate me from the wistfulness of knowing that we are now fully a home base for our girls, but that they now have homes in places we can only take planes to visit.