Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Prepare for launch.

When our oldest daughter got the good news that she’d been accepted to a pre-college summer art program in Southern California, I was both thrilled and also a little panicked about our girl going away for a month.

The length of time alone was hard to swallow. We’re talking about our first baby. For the past 17 years she’d never been out of my sight for more than a week, let alone 30 days. She’d be 300 miles away — what if Something Happened? What if she needed me? Even worse, what if she didn’t need me?

What could I do to overcome my separation anxiety? Get busy.

I started pre-packing and pre-sorting, then actual packing and sorting, along with a hefty dose of list-making. I consulted the school’s packing list. I looked at packing lists from the year before. I created my own custom packing list. This kid was going to be prepared with a capital P.

The week before she left I spent about three days doing nothing but her laundry. Now, I knew her dorm building had a room full of washers and dryers, but the mother in me could not rest unless I deposited her in LA with at least two duffel bags full of clean clothes.

On registration day, we checked our daughter into her dorm room, complete with the familiar mint- green plastic-covered mattresses, laminated faux wood dresser, battle-scarred desks and painted cinderblock walls.

We had packed enough snacks and art supplies to send her on an Arctic art expedition, but once we were in the room, making futile attempts to help her unpack, I was seized with the compulsion to head straight to the nearest Walmart for more provisions.

Grabbing a cart at Walmart, we started tossing in all kinds of stuff that until that moment Make Do Mom would have said was completely unnecessary.

Twenty-four bottles of blue Gatorade! A pink plastic spray bottle with attached fan! Scotch tape! A container of 330 Red Vines licorice!

A mother’s instinct is to provide for her offspring, so if my kid said she absolutely must have a new white board to stick on the outside of her dorm door for her friends to leave goofy late-night messages, then by God she shall have it!

I wasn’t alone in this feeling. The next aisle over, my husband was eyeing a box of 24 microwave macaroni and cheese meals. I tried to reason with him.

The school is feeding them three times a day, I said.

He moved to another aisle where he tried to share his wisdom about shower caddies, but she wasn’t listening to him. We were already becoming obsolete.

Heading back to the dorm, we met our daughter’s two other roommates, also moving in. Three sets of parents and the three girls all crowded into the dorm room.

I could see I wasn’t the only parent who had been struck by the idea to stock up on “essentials.” On the dorm room counter were two new bottles of hand sanitizer, a second tub of 330 Red Vines, a box of Wet Wipes and another 48 bottles of water. There were bags and bags of chips, pretzels and cookies. There were three fans, three study lamps and a stack of at least two dozen towels.

Not only were these girls set for the next four weeks, they could also serve as a relief station in case of a major earthquake or Armageddon.

As if we could tell that we had already outgrown our usefulness, we moms started inventing urgent tasks to do like hanging up towels, sorting bathroom supplies, suggesting where suitcases could be stored and where fans should be positioned for maximum cooling effect. Nobody wanted to be the first to leave.

After a quick goodbye where I managed not to cry in front of her new roommates, my husband and I got back in our car, just the two of us, and headed out of the school parking lot.

I shook my head like I almost couldn’t believe we had just left her there, alone, with 514 other kids.

Yes, we had left her with everything she could possibly need, and more. But we left behind something that I would need — in exactly 29 days.

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