In the six weeks since she’s been in college, Gabrielle Baker has:

  • fallen down steps in her physics class, resulting in a foot injury that prevented her from driving home over Labor Day weekend.
  • broken her iPad screen.
  • fallen off her bike and badly scraped her knee.
  • scratched her car while trying to parallel park.
  • been in the E.R. with an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts.

Life has not, in short, been kind to our little Gabrielle lately, and she’s had to learn a lesson that we all, eventually, must face: Adulting is hard.

In turn, her parents have also learned a hard lesson: Cleveland is far.

So, last weekend, William and I made our way up to The Forest City to check on our girl. We weren’t sure exactly what we would find. Gabrielle has mostly been in touch with her mom, Lisa, who has relayed to me a few key points. One, she’s homesick. Two, she’s not much in the mood for texting, though she will respond if you send her a picture of some cute puppies or kids.

Luckily, we have some dogs, so our communication from her has mostly consisted of, “Awwww, sweet babies.”

To be honest, I fully expected to reach campus and have her tell us she was done with this little college experiment and was ready to come home. I actually fully expected to let her.

But when we reached our little girl, who was advancing toward us with an ice coffee in her hand and a guy riding a skateboard beside her, she didn’t look sad at all. In fact, she looked beautiful, with an edgy application of makeup, a perfect pair of jeans and a cardigan because the season had shifted, overnight, into fall.

I gave her a hug and she hugged me back. Like, a good hug, a longish, tight one. Then she got into the car and started talking a mile a minute in response to our lengthy list of questions. Yes, she was going to her classes. Yes, she really liked her roommate. No, she was not running out of swipes on her meal plan. Yes, she was making friends. No, the bathrooms weren’t dirty. Yes, she was keeping her dorm room pretty clean. No, her bed wasn’t that comfortable. Yes, she liked her professors.

Getting to hear the sound of her voice for the first time after six weeks (she pretty much hates the phone) was nearly more important to me than actually listening to what she had to say. While assessing its happiness factor, I detected something new: There was a maturity, a confidence present that hadn’t been there before. Whatever she said, whether funny or insightful, it ran like a current underneath her words and I both fell in love with it and wanted her to be little again.

We went out for lunch, where Gabrielle ordered huevos rancheros, though she’s basically disliked eggs for the past five years. Then we walked around a food market where she wanted to buy fresh pasta so she could cook it in her dorm kitchen for her friends. Then we went to Target, where she stocked up on coffee, LaCroix, Cholula hot sauce, freeze-dried fruit and grapes. We bought her a foam mattress to improve her sleeping conditions. I insisted she buy a lava lamp for no reason at all.

She told us she would go back to her dorm to rest while we checked into our hotel. When we met back up, she was dressed for dinner, again looking radiant and different, walking with her shoulders back, showing us this city that she has chosen to live in, a city that, in pretty much every way, rocks.

We arrived at the restaurant, ordered, and she and William started identifying and commenting on the music playing in the background. All of the tension that had been there since junior year, over college apps and AP tests, over missed assignments and skipped chores, had disappeared and, finally, they could just talk about music without there being a lesson behind it.

It was over dinner, as Gabrielle swooned over beef tartare and I bit into a shishito pepper, that I asked her if she needed to come home, if maybe she wished she had gone to school closer, if maybe she was regretting her decision. She looked shocked and amazed we’d even considered it.

“I basically had to be uprooted no matter wherever I went. If I had to be uprooted, I’m glad it’s here. I like it here. I made the right choice.”

And then suddenly I knew what was fueling the current riding underneath her. It was pride. She was proud of herself, of her choice, her independence and that she was finally doing the thing we’d spent the last three years preparing her for. And that, dear readers, was an amazing thing to witness.

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