It’s been a week since I watched Number 4 walk away from the existence we had known for the last fourteen years and into a new phase of life.
Last Friday I dropped her off at boarding school for her freshman year of high school.
This was not something I ever envisioned doing.
I imagined the college drop off.
But I never imagined it would actually happen four years ahead of schedule.
Since it’s kind of a hike to get to her school, we left the day before she was scheduled to check in and stayed in a hotel.
Number 4 was SO EXCITED.
“Mom, I’m not nervous at all. I just can’t wait,” she said.
She was excited.
I was terrified.
We had a really nice final night together before she embarked on this new chapter.
Since kids were coming to school from different parts of the country — and the world — there were strict protocols in place.
Kids arrived on a staggered schedule over three days.
The school was a well oiled machine and the staff was amazing.
We pulled onto campus and Number 4 squealed with excitement.
“I’M AT MY NEW HOME!!!!!” she exclaimed, barely able to contain herself.
Our first stop was a welcome table where we were greeted personally and given instructions on where to go next.
We stopped at the IT station to make sure Number 4 had all the apps she’d need for the beginning of the year installed on her phone and to make sure she could access her email.
Next was a COVID test.
We made one more stop, and then we went to her dorm.
Staff members came directly to the car to unload her stuff, and they wheeled it into her room.
She was growing more and more excited.
They gave us a few minutes alone to say goodbye.
I wouldn’t be able to go inside. I couldn’t help her unpack her stuff. I couldn’t help her set up her room. I couldn’t see her new home.
And that’s when reality set in.
Number 4 and I grabbed on to each other and the tears started flowing.
From both of us.
I think the enormity of what was about to happen finally sank in for Number 4.
“Mom, I can handle not seeing everyone else, but I don’t know if I can handle not seeing you,” she said.
Oh that was hard to hear.
“You can handle it,” I told her.
We both cried some more.
And then I knew I had to get out of there or I might change my mind and tell her to come back home with me.
I took a picture of her in front of her new home.
She tried to smile through the tears.
And then she turned and walked away.
Doing this under normal circumstances would have been rough.
Doing it during a pandemic and a divorce when I wouldn’t be able to see her for two and a half months?
That was really fucking hard.
Would she be okay? Did I teach her everything she needed to know? Did I prepare her for that first time a boy was potentially a little (or a lot) too aggressive with her? Had I done all I could to make sure she stood up for the kid being picked on? Did she have the balls to stand up to the Mean Girls? Did I send her into the world alone, armed with enough smarts and guts and common sense and independence to navigate whatever came her way?
Honestly, I didn’t know.
But I hoped.
And then I left.
And I cried.
And I cried.
Number 4 had to spend (at least) 5 days quarantining in her room.
The students would eat in their rooms and they would begin classes in their rooms and they would find out who their roommate was when they entered their dorms for the first time.
It was a lot.
A lot of change.
A LOT OF CHNAGE.
In order to create a bubble of safety on campus, there would be no Open Houses. There would be no parent weekends. There would no visiting allowed at all.
I wouldn’t be able to see Number 4 until Thanksgiving break.
I went back to the hotel and spent the night there.
I wanted to give myself a chance to decompress before heading back home.
Number 4 texted me a few times that afternoon after I dropped her off. She was busy unpacking and meeting her advisor and getting her room set up.
She was doing okay.
Then I got a text at 7 a.m. the next morning.
I don’t know if I can do this.
This was one of my biggest fears.
Leaving a happy Number 4 at school would be hard enough.
Leaving a sad Number 4 at school would be intolerable.
I’m really REALLY struggling, she said.
I don’t know if I can handle being away from home.
You can, I told her.
YOU TOTALLY CAN.
I reminded her of something her former swim coach used to tell her:
You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
That’s not the same. I need you guys.
It’s totally the same, I told her. This part is very uncomfortable, but it will become more and more comfortable as you get used to it.
Ok. I’ll try.
I love you so much.
That first full day — Saturday — was especially difficult because there was nothing to do. There was a lot of sitting in her room, just thinking about how awkward and weird and hard everything was.
There was a lot of missing home and missing her routine and missing familiarity and missing her brothers and sisters.
We Facetimed probably 5 or 6 times that day.
Number 4 was crying every time.
It was heartbreaking.
We talked about all the things she could do to help herself.
She was trying so hard, but she was really hurting.
Sunday was a little bit better.
The school started offering workout times for the kids outside in the morning.
Number 4 signed up and went for a run at 6:30 am that morning.
She was still very emotional, but we had a couple conversations that day with no tears.
She went to a Google meet for kids who were feeling homesick.
When they had “recess” that afternoon, she really wanted to go for another run because that really helps her feel better, but she said, “Mom, I think I should probably hang out with the other girls because I need to start making some friends”
SHE WAS DOING ALL THE RIGHT THINGS.
All the hard, right things that most of us grown ups don’t do even though we know we should.
I was so proud of her.
On Monday virtual classes started.
That was a game changer.
Number 4 Facetimed me at 8:30 that morning.
She had already run 4 miles and she was showered and dressed and had put makeup on and she looked like her old self.
“MOM, I PUT MAKE UP ON AND GOT DRESSED,” she said.
She was smiling and enthusiastic.
I am just so proud of her.
Today we learned the campus gets to move to phase 2.
Number 4 can go to class in person tomorrow. She can pick up her meals at the dining hall and eat outside. She can socialize with other girls on her floor and go outside when she wants to and she can hopefully start swim practice soon.
That was really good news to receive today.
Because it’s her birthday.
Happy Birthday to my ballsy, tough, determined, fourteen-year-old ball of fire.
Number 4 doesn’t just inspire me.
She makes me a better person.
And I’ve never been more proud to be her mom.