Missed Milestones

As the girls were growing up, I’d always assumed that the passage from teenager to grown-up would be marked by two big milestones: high school graduation and the emotional college-drop-off. As with many things that I’d assumed about parenting before I actually parented, I was wrong.

M’s high school graduation happened, of course, but since she was Class of 2020, it was not anything like what I’d ever expected. I hadn’t anticipated, for example, that I’d be decorating the back of our car in a quasi-tragic attempt to make the not-super-festive slightly more festive.

Ah, well. That’s okay.

And now, if I had had any expectation that I’d be attending a normal graduation for J, that has been eliminated with her exchange program. At first we weren’t quite sure if she’d be home in time to celebrate the end of her high school career with us, but now it’s clear that she’ll be otherwise engaged. She’s going on a whirlwind two-week European tour with a bunch of other Rotary exchange students. I mean, okay. It looks like it might be fun. Definitely sounds more fun than a bunch of speeches and a walk across a stage.

As for the big first college drop-off: well, technically, we had that for M, and we’ll have it again for J.

But the typical story of dropping your kids off at college is that it is a brand-new, exciting-but-scary adventure for the kids and the first really wrenching separation for the parents. That the joy is tempered with a bit of grieving and plenty of anxiety about how your kid will handle this next big challenge.

By contrast, I’m expecting J’s college drop-off to be about as anticlimactic as M’s was.

Prior to M’s college start, she got on an airplane and flew to Colorado in the middle of a pandemic before the vaccine was available to work in a town where she knew no one and would be treated as an adult. She’d need to fend for herself, grocery shop without a car, cook all her own meals in an apartment with strangers, and work full-time. Including both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Oh, man, that was tough. If you look back at how I was talking shortly after she left, a nice summarizing quote was: “I find it terrifying.” Collapsing and dying in her Covid-quarantine apartment, getting date-raped by tequila-and-weed soaked fellow employees, having a terrifying skiing accident that landed her in the hospital… all of these possibilities crossed my mind at one time or another. But M was miserable at home, and I knew in my head, if not in my heart and gut, that she would likely be fine. And she was. She was better than fine: she made great friends, learned how to snowboard, and got real “adulting” experience that has served her well. And after hearing about other kids’ 2020-2021 college year experience, I am so grateful that she decided on a Gap year: she had way more fun than almost anyone else during during the winter of 2021-22.

All of that means that when it was time to drop M off at college, it was a piece of cake. Sure, Grinnell is far away, but it’s not as far away as Colorado. And since Cute W and I had both attended and loved the school, it feels like home. Cute W used to live in her first-year residence hall, I’d collected gushing reviews from fellow alumni to help her choose her first class, we’d be watching her soccer games online throughout the fall, and she’d be home for Christmas. We trusted the community to support her, and we were fully confident that she would love it. Tears, trepidation? Nope. Just a long drive home.

And now J’s college drop-off looms in the near future. Again, in contrast to this year, it feels like a piece of cake. In August, we dropped her off at the airport to fly across the ocean to live with people we’d never met and attend school in Italy when she knew, like, a smidgen of Italian. We wouldn’t see her in person for seven months. Friends would be surprised: “Wait, she’s not coming home for Christmas?” No. Do you know how she currently gets to school? She rides a bike to a train station, takes a train from her village to the city of Trento, takes a bus from the train station, then walks the rest of the way to school. In a different country. Thank goodness I didn’t fully register this until much later, when she had the routine down. Apparently she got lost a few times. My teenage daughter. Lost. In a foreign country.

Did you know that Smith College is just under 2 hours away? If J called me in the morning and said that she was feeling sad, I could say, “Hey, would you like me to take you out to lunch?” I’m not saying that that is going to happen. But I am saying that that is something that is possible. Also, fun fact? Guess where I was planning to go to college if I didn’t like Grinnell when I visited? Smith College! Really! I was accepted, and I liked it, but I was concerned because I also really, really liked guys. And lucky me, I found my Favorite Guy Ever in college. But it makes the fact that J ended up wanting to go there seem almost Fated. Whenever I hear about some lovely Smith tradition, it screams out for my daughter. What, they give you a little plant when you arrive? J will be so happy to get it! They spend a beautiful day climbing a mountain? J will love that! Afternoon tea on Fridays? Perfect for J! I know that there will be some challenges along the way, but I just feel like this exchange year has made her massively prepared to take on just about anything.

While lacking the experience of any “real” graduation ritual is a bit of a bummer, I expect that racking up two carefree and joyful first college drop offs is ample compensation.


  1. Nana in Savannah

    Hummmmmm . . . . . wonder how our two girls turned out to be such wonderful human beings and so very self sufficient? Could it indeed have anything to do with her terrific parents? I think so!

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