I’m sitting at the eye doctor with Gabrielle, who has just had her pupils dilated. It’s appropriate enough, as, nearly since I started writing this column 13 years ago, I described her as being a saucer-eyed kid. Today, her beautiful, big eyes look like they might contain whole planets and as she looks blindly around, I’m grateful she can’t see the tears in my eyes.
This, dear readers, is the last doctor’s appointment I will take her to before she leaves for college this weekend. It’s a strange feeling, and I’m seeing everything with new perspective this morning.
This past weekend, we packed up a few totes to begin the process of preparing her for her departure. She decided she was going to take not one, but two kinds of pillow spray. She decided to take her bright pink Nanny blanket, which her grandmother crocheted for her when she was about 8. She elected to donate her owl-themed purses, gifts she received when she went through an Everything Owl phase. Likewise with the fashion scarves that I decided would look dashing on a 7-year-old, something for which she’s never quite forgiven me.
As we packed, I tried to convince myself we were just doing our annual cleaning of the closet, where we decide what clothes she’ll keep and which ones should head to Goodwill. I kept it light and breezy, and realized halfway through I was keeping it that way 100 percent for my self-preservation and not hers.
She did her official Dorm Room Shopping Spree with her mom a few weeks ago, and Lisa, as usual, was so sweet to keep me in the loop. They picked up a spring garden comforter with cheerful throw pillows. They found fresh, fuzzy, marigold yellow towels, as well as a shower caddy, a lamp, a fluffy robe and dinner plates stamped with images of saguaro cacti. On her walls will be posters featuring everything from Fantastic Mr. Fox to Ruprecht from Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels to Monty Python. It was a good haul.
We all drive to Cleveland this weekend. How I’m going to keep it together, I have absolutely no idea. I suppose the fact that there is the job of actually hauling everything in and setting everything up should help. On Saturday, we’ll have the goals of finding her a pharmacy, bank and mailbox, and then we’ll have to rush with the move-in on Sunday so we can get back to Kentucky before too late.
I’ve never felt any fondness for the state of Ohio before, but the fact that Gabrielle will be living there and it’s at least next to Kentucky has made me warm to it. Happily, we won’t be leaving her all alone in the middle of Cleveland when we drive off because Lisa and Gabrielle’s stepdad Doug are staying until Monday for parent orientation.
Gabrielle’s car has been in the shop for the past week and, today, her eyes will be too dilated to see so, fittingly, I’ve been driving her around a bit lately. It feels nice to be needed in that way, and we’ve always had the best conversations sitting side by side each other.
But, every step of the way now, I’m reminded that she is now grown, no matter what I do. When we got to the ophthalmologist, for example, I automatically started filling out the paperwork until Gabrielle gently took it from me and completed the rest herself. It’s funny how hard that stuff is to let go. I mean, when they’re 7 and wearing a fashion scarf, you never in your life think you’re going to savor filling out doctor’s office paperwork one day. But it’s the symbolism of those little things, I guess, those thousand little things that make up raising a child. And now that she’s grown, it’s easy, almost automatic, to start feeling nostalgic about them.
I can witness Gabrielle doing the same thing in the face of the move. I can already see her redefining Somerset and Kentucky as she’s set to leave it, recognizing its comforts, sweet quirks and beauty. She’s ready to leave, but the resentment we all feel toward our place of birth when we’re young is already lifting.
William is facing her leaving with his usual brand of practicality. He’s already told her he doesn’t think she should get a job next summer because she’ll need to rest after all of the strenuous studying she’ll need to do in order to keep her scholarship over the next year. He means for it to be kind, I know, but also as a reminder that dad expects her to work — and work hard.
For my part, I am happy for now to sit back and just let her be. That’s one thing about having an 18 year old that I didn’t expect: You get to back off and, sometimes, that feels incredibly refreshing. You’ve done your best and you’ve stuffed them with all the advice you can think of and now it’s time to just let them do their thing.
And that thing, that new life, starts this weekend. But from now until then, I plan on keeping my eyes closed, or at least my vision fuzzy, and pretending that we have all the time in the world left together.