I like to think that everyone possesses at least one savant skill. Some folks excel at chainsaw juggling or up-close magic. Others are terrific at singing Cat Stevens or James Taylor songs on acoustic guitar in a way that isn’t colossally douchey. (Conversely, some are so prodigiously oily and earnest at it, that you wouldn’t even mind if Jim Belushi came by to smash their guitar.) Still, yet, there are those whose only discernible skill is employing Twitter to attack society’s most vulernable while wearing a bathrobe. That said, the jury is still out whether that person is actually human or a miscreant Oompa Loompa that’s somehow absconded with the Oval Office.
As for me, I’m excellent at pushing down my feelings with pound cake. I’m a bit of a stud at reciting 70’s Major League baseball lineups while a teeny bit inebriated. But I’d still say my most pronounced skill is practicing the lost art of anticipatory anxiety. I defy anyone out there to build themselves in a full-fledged panic and frenzy over something that hasn’t yet happened or will never happen.
This summer, my special skill was most noticeably employed on the topic of my first daughter leaving for college. More than my job, more than my blogs or pilot, more than any political screed I’ve written, most of this summer’s brain power has been devoted to worrying about how I might feel the moment I would say goodbye.
Well, as of last Monday, that moment has passed. And though it wasn’t at all fun or easy, I can say that like a Tom Petty single or pondering the results of a post-Cabo negative AIDS test, the waiting really was the hardest part.
I’m not going to get into my daughter’s specific reactions. I feel that she’s fully entitled for this experience, with all its intendant feelings, to remain her own. I guess I’m more focused on the general notion, that I’ve seen proven time and time again, that very few things are as bad as the period you spend perseverating about them, while waiting for said event to happen.
Mind you, saying goodbye to your baby girl is indisputably awful. No question. But it happens. Then it’s done. And you wonder why you spent all summer imagining the most painful different scenarios instead of working on your tan or two-handed backhand.
My anxiety was so world class that I even posted the following warning to myself, a reminder not to let my fear of hurting in the moment overshadow what was indisputably her moment. (Yes. I was even worrying about my worrying.)
“A few reminders to myself (and anyone else who might be eavesdropping .)
I'm not the one going to college. She is.
This isn't about me, my needs, my emotions or reactions. It's about hers.
I may still feel deep feelings. But her concern when setting up her room shouldn't be "why is dad blubbering?"
(Even I'll try holding it together until I've turned around. But there I go making it about me again.)
It may feel like we're saying goodbye forever. But in many cases, it's shorter than a stay at Jewish summer camp.
We're not sending them to war (like we would be doing in many countries and could be doing in this one.). We're sending them to school. With great books, great friends and okay beer.
There are not armed foreign adversaries. There may be an annoying guy with a hacky sack.
It's not the end. It's the end of this particular chapter. And it would be weird if it wasn't ending.
These are not babies leaving the nest for the first time. They are 18 year-old young adults ready for a transformative experience. They only seem like babies to us.
Of course, you can be sad to say goodbye. But the act of moving in shouldn't be about your sadness. The "kids" will be nervous enough without us piling on and asking around for a Xanax.
So safe travels everybody. Cherish the experience. Hug your kids. And remember this isn't about you.
I'll talk to you all on the other end. And let you know how well I took my own advice.”
All in all, I think I did okay. I definitely lost it once at lunch, a couple hours before move-in, when both my wife and daughter asked why I was sobbing into my pork-belly sandwich. And for the actual goodbye, I was naturally a blubbering mess. But I held it together alright. I walked out, got on a plane, then took an Uber directly to Dupar’s where I stress-ate a multi-course, post-midnight eggs and hashed browns ensemble. But trust me, it could’ve been much worse. I didn’t even get the side of flapjacks.
Ultimately, you will likely find yourself way more concerned with how your kid is reacting than your own sense of loss. And trust me, there is no greater sense of relief than that first FaceTime call where she says “it’s okay” or “it’s a little better than expected.” Hey, they’re still teenagers. They will never give you the total relief of saying “it’s terrific.” Because deep down they’re still a little mad at you for letting them turn 18 so quickly.
So that’s it. Like I wrote from the Oakland Airport that night: “33 years ago, I met a girl in Berkeley. Today, that girl and I dropped off a girl of our own, mere blocks from where we first said hello. As I'm boarding my flight back home, my heart is aching with sadness. But that can't compare with my how much this very same heart is swelling with pride.
I miss my daughter tremendously. But I know that the experiences she having and the knowledge she’s accruing so vastly outweigh any needs that I feel to have her sitting next to me watching Big Brother.
So for anyone else going through the drop-off this month, like anything, it’s not as hard as you think it’s going to be. It’s the right thing to do. It’s your children who are going through the brave, the life-changing experience. So rip off the Band Aid and do it. It doesn’t hurt nearly as much as you fear. And plus, think how overjoyed you’ll be to see them at Thanksgiving.