There are brand new pink sheets in the wash right now. One set of jersey, one of flannel. Twin extra long as required by dormitory standards. They are, of course, Child One’s sheets for college. I’m washing them so they’ll be soft and smell of home when she puts them on her dorm room bed for the first time. There’s no real need for me to wash them of course. I have two housekeepers who could easily do the task and are expecting to fluff and fold in preparation for the packing and upcoming departure. But I want to wash her sheets – want to feel the warmth as I fold them and smell what she’ll smell on her first night’s sleep at school.
She is not excited to sleep on her new sheets – not excited to dive into the brand new shiny future that awaits her. I find it hard to relate. Like most 18 year olds of my generation, I couldn’t get out of the house fast enough – couldn’t wait to grow up – couldn’t wait to get away, to be an adult, to “start life” – that’s how I thought of it. I could only dream of a fancy east coast school – could only dream of the world that eagerly awaits her. But I never had to face the reality of what that meant. Maybe I would have been scared – maybe I would have hesitated to fly across the country and dive into a world completely foreign. I’ll never know. It simply wasn’t an option. But it is not only an option for Child One. It is now her reality.
And Child One is nothing like me. She does not want to leave the house, doesn’t want to grow up, has no interest in getting as fast and as far away as possible. Its not that she isn’t excited about starting school – not that she isn’t looking forward to making new friends and tackling new academic challenges. And it certainly isn’t as if she lacks gratitude or awareness. She wants to embrace what lies ahead. It’s just that she’d like us all to come along and embrace it with her. But of course we can’t. Of course she’ll have to take a deep breath and dive into the deep end on her own. And she’ll have pain and fear and anxiety as well as victory and great joy and success.
Child One’s pre-college panic is not unlike Best Friend’s daughter N’s moment the other day. Little N got an early lesson in charity as mother and daughter packed up binkies and a few infant toys and took them to a local hospital to share with children less fortunate. N was cooperative and stoic during the packing and drop off but melted into a tortured tantrum later in the day. She was having a hard time letting go, having a hard time moving beyond this phase of her life. So, for her afternoon nap, her mother found an old binky in the back of a drawer – one that had escaped packing – and gave it to the hysterical child. She calmed right away and fell quickly to sleep.
Child One is having just such a moment. Child One would love nothing more than to keep all of her binkies – to hold on to this moment, to these friends, to this life of highschool relationships and dreams. She does not want to pack it all up and move on to the next phase. She knows she must – knows that she will forget about her binkies and begin to embrace a new life soon enough.
But tonight she is digging in. And tonight I wash her sheets to make sure they smell like home. I’ll stay up just a little late to fold them and pack them away so I know she has what she needs. And maybe she’ll unpack them, two weeks and three thousand miles from here, and know that a little bit of home has followed her east and will always be with her wherever she goes.