If I haven’t posted a blog for over three weeks, it’s usually because it’s competing with putting a meal on the table (or other important things) or my experiences have been too intimate for me to share. In the last three weeks, both have been true. I write blog posts in my head that never get published. When I’m in line at the post office, in the shower, at church… especially at church, I imagine my blog postings. My topics range vastly from humor (how Bridgette and I recently purchased Verismo coffee machines for half of what they normally cost) to difficult parenting experiences, to my very slow results of settling into our new home, to job hunting, working, Bradley’s concussion, and most recently, sending Bridgette off to college. I hope to get the chance to share about all of the above, but for now, I’m going to start backwards, and share our college experience. It’s an experience that blesses me, and I hope to draw on its goodness for a long time to come.
I took Bridgette down to Corvallis on September 23rd. Her dad, Alex drove down separately and helped unload and build things so we could unpack and D-E-C-O-R-A-T-E; the most important piece, of course! The previous week she began to show signs of sentiment, and I began to wonder if all the bravado of wanting to use the college experience as her opportunity to be independent and separate was becoming less important, and family was becoming more important. I kept hearing: “This is the last time I’ll go to Sunday service with you,” “This is the last time I’ll drive Bradley to school,” “This is the last time I’ll unload the dishwasher (might have been the first time!).” I kept reminding her, these aren’t last times, honey. But in her mind, they were the last time. From this point on, things would be different. Change was in the air.
This last Saturday she awakened me with breakfast in bed. When she’d gone to bed the night before, she’d understood that I was going to get up early so I could get an early start on things. What she didn’t know was that instead of me getting myself to bed for an early start, I’d stayed up until 1am, unable to stop in the middle of something. So, her breakfast in bed greeted me at 6am. You can imagine my first instinct. It was to inform her that as nice as breakfast in bed is, it’s never nice enough for a 6am wake up call. But through blurred eyes, I assessed the smile on her face, the two perfectly over easy eggs on top of whole grain toasted bread, and Billy Currington’s song, “People are Crazy” playing from her iPhone. I knew what this breakfast in bed was. It was a huge, “I love you, I’m going to miss you, and I can’t believe I’m leaving in three days. Five hours of sleep would have to be enough for this day.
You might think I was being presumptuous in my assessment of her breakfast in bed. I wasn’t. The previous couple of days Bridgette had begun to verbalize how much she was going to miss home. After almost a month, one day I was determined to make sense of our kitchen after work that day. I will love our new home. But thus far, I still have more things (furniture, kitchenware, etc) than I have space. Goodwill and Craigslist have become very familiar to me. After a small remodeling job of moving the washer and dryer from the kitchen to the garage, I was able to put some key items away. If one has a crock pot, a Kitchen Aid, a Knife Sharpener… who wants to get rid of them? Once the washer and dryer were moved and shelves put into the pantry, I could tackle the island which had become the landing for everything. It wasn’t a pleasant space.
Bridgette came home after a college bible study and fallen in love with our new kitchen space. She fantasized aloud about future conversations we would have with people sitting around talking and cooking. The previous week, her bedroom had started coming together. Together we’d purchased a bed and dresser from IKEA. After much help from a couple of people with whom we traded chocolate chip cookies and babysitting time for building and manual labor, she had the beginnings of a bedroom. That night in the kitchen she said, “Mom, thank you for making a home that I want to come back to.” I felt a flood of relief come over me. I didn’t see our house that way. I’d been fretting to a friend that I felt so bad that our home was in such disarray, and that Bridgette was probably eager to be away from it all.
A few days before the big departure, Bridgette had told Bradley and me not to plan anything on Sunday night, at 5pm. She wouldn’t tell us what we were doing, but she had a surprise up her sleeve. It was very exciting for me; I can’t remember the last time I had such anticipation for an event. Her enthusiasm was contagious. She told me to dress “classy,” but told me we were taking the dogs. She said I didn’t need a coat. I was perplexed. I had a few ideas swirling around in my head, but it turned out none of them were right. As we drove down Hwy 30, I guessed we were going to Sauvie’s Island. I commented that I didn’t think there were any restaurants on Sauvie’s Island, but what did I know? Sure enough, that’s where we landed. We pulled into a park called Howell Territorial and Bradley recognized a boy from his high school who has a reputation for being a great photographer. Bridgette had orchestrated a family photography session. It couldn’t have been a more perfect night or a more perfect gift. I treated us all to Papa Haydn’s afterward.
Over the next two days Bridgette packed and assembled last minute pieces for her college life. She talked to people about sororities and gathered information. She articulated her sadness in leaving, and her surprise at how she was feeling. We discussed the switch from University of Portland to OSU, and how different the experience would have been had she moved to UP according to her original schedule: the day we were moving our home, and two days before she was to be finished up at PSU and her Spanish course. The night before I took her to school, she cashed in on some of the babysitting she owed the couple whose husband helped build the dresser. The little baby clung to her the entire time Bridgette babysat him. Bridgette noted the irony of the little baby, clinging for dear life, which is exactly how she was feeling, needing assurance that her home would always be here for her.
She got assurance of that in many ways, but in particular, she got it from her brother. Bradley surprised us both when he showed me (and gave to Bridgette the next morning at Starbucks, when she took him to school for “the last time”) what he had made her. This project wasn’t something that Bradley would typically do. I was so touched by his desire to comfort her, and his commitment to see his project through to the end. He began the project thinking he would design it and then “just print it out and cut it.” Except there was one problem, or maybe two. Our printer hadn’t been hooked up since we moved in, a month ago. I don’t know how to do it, and even though I may have been able to figure it out, it wasn’t winning out over other things, such as fixing fences to contain the dogs, battling our sprinkler system that hasn’t worked, etc. But Bradley figured it out and then when he didn’t find a cutter that worked well, he hand cut 25 cards and then hand wrote a message in each of them (minus two that were from me).
That night we laid in bed together and cried. I don’t think either of us really knew why. Both of us know going away to college is the right thing, and a good thing. We acknowledged her friends who had gone much further away than an hour and a half. Maybe the tears were the realization of all she’d been through to get to this point. Maybe they were tears of relief. We hugged each other as if she was my baby, but knowing she was no longer my baby, a point she had recently verbalized, not entirely sure she wanted to be that adult she’s developmentally expected to be.
On the way down to Corvallis we talked about the previous days and how surprised she was at how she felt. We talked about the frequency we would talk, what she wanted, what she didn’t want. She realized that her original idea of going to college and having virtually no contact with me at all seemed silly. She said that if she were getting married, she’d still talk to me, so why would this be different? We talked about what to do with her hair and laughed at that subject (that might be a post for another time) and about issues that are particularly difficult for her. The topics weren’t new, they were just being revisited and ideas reconfirmed. As we rounded the bend and the stadium peeked out from the fog, the excitement grew.
The move in went well. She got lucky (or not) and was assigned a single room…NO ROOMMATE, that means. When I left, I marveled at how fortunate she was. She noted that her college dorm room is bigger than her room at home. After Alex left, Bridge and I finished up some decorating, then made a trip to Fred Meyer. She was supposed to be back for a 6pm MANDATORY dorm meeting (as the white board stated), but we decided to have dinner on our own instead and skip the meeting. She didn’t want me to go. But she had clarified that statement on the drive down by saying, “I can’t believe I’ve cried so much, because I wouldn’t have this any other way, “I’m so excited.” Exactly what a mother wants to hear.
While we were out, she realized she was missing her “2.”
Her “2” was a collage number I had made her for her graduation party. I had made four numbers consisting of 2014, with each number representing four of her best girlfriends who were part of a shared graduation party. She’d decided to hang her “2” in her dorm room. The photos represent her life. But we couldn’t find it, or another photo she felt certain she’d packed. We wondered if we had actually packed it, and couldn’t wait to return home to see if it was sitting someplace, waiting to be loaded into the car. On our drive back to the dorm, she got an email from OSU Student Services. They had her “2!” as well as the other photo. A construction worker had picked it up (It must have fallen while being transferred from the car to the dorm.). Student services discovered it was Bridgette’s property by looking at the names on the scoreboard in one of the pictures, entering them into the OSU system, and matching her photo to the photos in the collage. It was such a great way to be greeted at a school where one could feel lost, but instead, this one felt cared for.
I left about 7:30. We prolonged the departure enough. She didn’t want me to leave, and she told me so. Music to a mom’s ears. But it was time. I wanted to get home for Bradley (and the dogs) and I was working the next day. As I left, both of us began to get teary eyed, but neither of us wanted to cry. Good things were ahead.
On the way home I thought about how good our experience was. I thought about how similar it might have been to many families we know. And I thought, for the first time in a very long time, this experience felt normal, and knowing it was similar to experiences others might have gave us both so much pleasure and satisfaction. The tears came, but this time they weren’t about something being taken away that wasn’t our choice. Instead, the loss of childhood as we knew it was a result of something good: College. It’s something Bridgette chose. It’s something she earned, and something she’s been given. Her tears were good and clean and uncontaminated. And, I left knowing, she likes me. All our tears were tears worthy of a celebration.
And I thank Jesus for His goodness and mercy.