I’ve just left my firstborn in Las Vegas. LAS VEGAS, a city I was proud to have never set foot in until nine months ago, when at the age of 44, I took my daughter there to tour the college. University, rather, a huge one, 30,000 students, the size of the entire *city* where I attended high school. And now she’s here, on this campus, in this triple digit heat, a quick two miles from urban chancre that is the Strip.
I’m writing this from a quiet hotel room, a modest Courtyard, where I sit ALONE. I am alone with a pool, a king sized bed, and enough disposable income to purchase any manner of alcohol, chocolate, or bath salts I might desire. Years ago, when the children were wee, I would’ve given 1.5 ovaries for this very setup—silence, personal space, and maid service—and yet I sit here alone, missing my daughter, who is striking off into this next chapter of her life.
She was such an intense baby. “High-need,” they euphemistically termed her. She came into the world howling and didn’t stop until she was three, I swear, and she Did. Not. Sleep. In those off moments when she did drift off, though, I still couldn’t let my guard down, because she had night terrors. And she sleepwalked. And she woke me up multiple times each night until she was 9—years, not months—old. She began speaking at 10 months old, and quickly developed the verbal ability to argue with (and eventually, sneakily) bargain with and even PERSUADE anyone who stood in her path. She was born a tiny adult trapped in an infant’s infuriatingly helpless body, and this discordance was her (and my) cross to bear, gradually lightening only as her actual age has approached the age she always thought she was.
I handled this process as well as I could at the time, but now, from the vantage point of wisdom and sufficient sleep, I have many regrets. I wish I could’ve given her more, been more present, less harried, less exhausted and (if we're being honest) angry when she was little. I wish I could’ve taken her more places, exposed her to more things. I wish I could’ve given her an intact family. My therapist tell me that these regrets are about my grief, my issues, my inadequacies—SHE IS FINE, he assures me.
As if to prove him right, here she is, one of several thousand young people in identical red T-shirts, learning the Runnin’ Rebels fight song, the layout of campus, the dorm rules, the meaning of consent as per the “tea” video. At 17, she has held several jobs, earned enough money to buy her first car and fund a trip to NYC, fixed her car, graduated with honors and enough credits to start college as a sophomore, done virtually all of the household grocery shopping and meal prep for over a year, and so much more. She even—with the help of a special 20-pound weighed blanket—sleeps through the night. I have never met a young person so ready to handle this transition into college.
When she was a baby, there were moments when I wasn’t sure I would survive her. Now, watching her spin off into the enormity of her future, I feel like I might not survive her absence. She came into this world and demanded more of me than I thought I had. She needed my physical presence to a degree unusual even for babies; she clung to me so tightly I could let go and she wouldn’t budge, her fingers twined in my hair and shirt, her tiny knees squeezing my ribs, even her tiny toes curling into my waist; my gibbon baby. I recall vividly the first time she deliberately pulled her hand out of mine—she was five and feeling her mettle—but even then, she stayed by my side. Even a week ago, for that matter, the center of her orbit was, if not me personally, a barycenter very near me. She came home every night to my home. We breathed the same air, ate at the same table, squabbled over the same household tasks.
No more. Her orbit has shifted, grown, expanded to soon encompass worlds neither of us can yet imagine. I look out over the campus and feel not only sadness and pride, but a twinge of envy. She will have opportunities I never even knew to hope for her. She will be home, of course, and for a while yet she will call it “home.” But these returns will feel more and more like visits, and her home will begin to form elsewhere. She will form it, as she has done everything else, with grit and will and principle. And I will support her as I have every day since she came into the world: imperfectly, but with perfect love.