The Thinker

Separation anxiety

Our dining room is stacked with purchases and things encased in plastic. Our truck rental reservation is made, although it’s unclear to me whether an actual truck will be available on Monday. With so many college students moving into dorms and apartments, rental trucks are in short supply. We have purchased most of the items needed for our daughter to move to Richmond, Virginia and emptied our bank account in the process. The university’s checklist still has some unchecked spots. The whole application process at Virginia Commonwealth University is confusing and convoluted, meaning that only yesterday was our daughter able to sign up for classes. Because of the incessant delays, most of the classes that she wanted were already filled. She has no appointed adviser yet to guide her, and all the orientation slots are now full. She could call the undergraduate advisor for her department, but this involves her waking up before the sun goes down, something she is loathe to do. In short, procrastination on both her part and on her university’s part is costing time, money and opportunity. It is making this nervous father fret.

Procrastination drives me nuts, which is why I feel like I live my life in constant turmoil. Unfortunately, my wife and daughter are both chronic procrastinators. My wife can quite easily enter into a mindless mode where time, space and pressing deadlines disappear for hours at a time. When she emerges, I often get a predictable, “My goodness! I lost track of time again! I meant to do X, Y and Z.” I cannot complain since she was this way when I married her, but I was sort of hoping my daughter would not pick up her habit. Alas, she has, although I was pleased that she took initiative on a few things in her life recently, like arranging with her doctor for the shots she needed to be admitted.  (Naturally, it happened at the very last moment.)

None of this should be a big deal since she will be twenty-one next month. Yet despite two years of community college, she still is challenged by logistics and life’s complexity in general. Perhaps I contributed to it through a process of learned dependence. Perhaps she needed to fail at things a few more times than she did. Instead, her left brained dad did a lot of her organizational thinking (and nagging) for her, with my wife adding her nervous worries periodically as well.

This all should change on Monday when we pack most of our daughter’s stuff along with a new bed, desk, printer, sheets and much of her other random detritus and move them (along, hopefully, with her) to a townhouse a couple blocks from VCU. She will wall off and inhabit much of the living room, while two young men will inhabit the upstairs bedrooms. All are quiet types. One of the young men is essentially a hermit, emerging only to go to classes. I suspect that she will fit in well with them, once she gets accustomed to her new urban abode. While lately her focus has been more on World of Warcraft than university, an event in her life this seismic is finally achieving a grudging priority. For the first time since she was about three years old she will sleep regularly somewhere else. Like it or not, life is changing for her.

It will be changing for my wife and me as well. The truth is that emptying the nest is both liberating and scary for all involved. I have been doing the parenting thing for two decades and it is now second nature to me. Come Tuesday morning, only silence will come from her bedroom. Our cat Arthur is likely to be puzzled and eventually pissed. When we are out, our daughter provides him with reliable amusement, at least when she is awake. In time, Arthur will likely half forget Rosie, and he will be more in our faces.

Some part of me will be glad for one less occupant in the house and the additional privacy. Some eighty percent of the reason things get disorderly in my house will suddenly disappear. Some other part of me will be concerned that something dreadful could be happening to our daughter. She has a cell phone but she is sporadic about carrying it around or keeping it charged. In addition, she will be two hours away. She could disappear and we might not be able to find her. It will be challenging not to call or text her just to see if she is okay. Since she is not mindful of things like cell phones, unanswered calls or text, contacting her may just cause unnecessary anxiety. Perhaps I need to adopt a policy of not trying. Even if I can resist temptation to call her up, I doubt that my wife can. It’s going to take a couple weeks before we relax.

Our daughter will likely go through similar feelings. Except for her new housemate, whom she met only once and the undergraduate advisor I introduced her to, she doesn’t know a soul in Richmond. As she is introverted by nature, it will probably prove challenging to make new friends. At first, she will probably feel lonely. I know I felt that way when I started at college. Fortunately, I got a very compatible roommate so it did not last long.

I am betting that her loneliness phase won’t last too long. Instead, it will soon be, Living here is a heck of a lot better than at home! There is no need to drive five miles or more to be anywhere of interest. Instead, walk a few blocks or less and community surrounds you: age twenty something people, most of them reasonably intelligent, with all the temptations and richness of a university around her.

I expect we will see her on some weekends, perhaps every weekend. Once I had a car, I tended to come home every other weekend. It worked out great. One weekend to enjoy the city as a single man, then one weekend home with family where my laundry was mysteriously was cleaned and all this wonderful and tasty food was plentiful and freely available. I found that institutional food (and later my own cooking) could only be ingested for so long before my body rebelled. My guess is that once our daughter finds a small group of friends she will be away more than at home on the weekends. Once our anxiety is lessened, we may think about her absence less and less too. At some point, it will seem normal.

On Monday, we have to get sweaty, pack her up, haul her stuff 120 miles south and then leave her in a strange city. Our bodies will course with a mixture of feelings. She will be back home for extended semester breaks and following graduation she will probably want to move back in full time. Nevertheless, she will also have had the experience of living apart from parents. Except for paying for that part of her life, I suspect she is going to like it, even if it means she has to wash her own dishes and bus her own table.

In the end, so likely will we.


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