By the time I hit ‘publish’ on this post, Nadjah will be seated in her first class and most likely will be on her way across campus (or perhaps next door?) for her next lecture. I don’t know. There are so many unknowns. All I know for sure is today, August 21, 2023, I became a first time university mom.
I want to vomit. Or faint. Or surrender to any one of the many failures of bodily control that they talk about in fiction. Except there is nothing imaginary about this moment. My firstborn child, the 3lbs 09oz little alien who was ripped from my uterus and into a waiting world 8 weeks early, is off to college!
From the moment you experience your child’s first kick in the womb, you dream of this particular milestone and so many others. You wonder when they will start walking and one day without notice or warning, they push themselves up and totter with gleeful clumsiness towards you. You prepare yourself for tears on the first day of pre-school and instead of clinging tearfully to your sweat pant clad leg, they hoist a backpack twice their size over their shoulder and run with abandon into the jaws of early education. In their teen years you assure them that you can be trusted with their fears and concerns, but the only concern they want you to concern yourself with is how much money you are willing to part with and how long they can stay out. But you knew that these angsty moments would come, because after all, it was 1996 just 12 years ago and you remember your teen years too. Except the last time you were a college-bound teen was TWENTY SEVEN years ago and you are delusional about your age and what time it actually is. It’s time to send your helpless preemie to college.
Sitting here over 9000 miles away from Nadjah and unable to participate in her first day rituals, I now finally understand the ridiculous parents who lingered in the freshman halls at my university. Were I closer, I too would be unable to resist the urge to purchase the very best linen Walmart had to offer; to sneak a fridge into the dorm – damn the grid and its inability to cater to allow wattage; repeat the phrase “Are you sure you have enough…” and “Don’t you want to make another run for…” and finally declaring that “I will make a run for…because you’re going to need it.” Never mind that there is a commissary on campus or that Amazon could delivery any forgotten items needed. No delivery service will ever be as good as mom. Let’s not forget, all these little knuckle headed boys need to SEE that my child has a father ready to pounce if they should ever look at her sideways. Those boys (usually upper classmen) ended up pouncing anyways, but the performance is part of our parental right of passage. And while we are not immigrants, it is not lost on me that my daughter and I find ourselves in a very unique college-bound immigrant experience.
Very few of us who grew up overseas and choose to go to university in the USA or UK have the luxury of having our parents accompany us for final meals at Golden Coral (or whatever garbage buffet is available in College Town, USA) or press a final crisp $20 in our hands for emergencies. (Or cashapp for the new generation, which would be blocked from overseas anyways.) I always imagined that I would almost walk her to her first set of classes, but just like those toddler days when she took off before I could get my camera, I am missing a key moment. I have to rely on my imagination to visualize what those steps will look like for her in 2023.
I now understand why so many university moms spend so much time in fervent prayer. This kind of release requires a different sort of intercession.
I wonder if I taught her enough about the world that she is about to enter. I worry that the good sense that my friends swear I’ve imparted to her will fail her at critical moments as it did me…as it did so many of my fallen comrades. Is she woman enough to face the world? I suppose I won’t know until she faces it.
Fellow parents sending their kids to college for the first time: How are you coping? And if you’ve done this before does it get easier with the other kids?