I’ve never been the kind of organized mother who has an immediate solution for every potential situation that a child can encounter while getting out the house on the first day of school. My approach is a bit more chaotic. As I am running out the door attempting to ascertain if my kids have everything they need for the day for fear that I will get the dreaded call at work advising me that Junior forgot his lunch box on the kitchen table, I’m usually forgetting some personal item of my own… my phone, my purse, my wallet (which should have been in my purse), my laptop case, my computer (which should have been packed into the laptop case)… and the list goes on! Sometimes, as I’m walking out the door not sensing the abundant weight of all this baggage, I notice that something is missing before I get into the car, but most times I don’t until I’m pulling into the parking lot at work. It’s not easy being a mom!
Arriving to the school, I’m sitting in line waiting to drop off the kids. My approach to depositing a child at school is generally what I term the “drive-by” approach. I drive-by, stop and let kid #1 off at the designated spot. Kid #2 scoots over to the right side of the back seat, then he gets dropped. When in a hurry I’ve been known to slow down to a slow roll and instruct child one to exit to the curb. If it looks like fun, then child #2 eagerly awaits her turn after, and she may even tell me to speed up a little, adding a little extra thrill to the process. I find my approach to be simple, efficient and no-fuss. Some of my colleagues on the parenting front see it differently. Take, for instance, my son’s elementary school. A line of cars could be extending from the school drop zone out into the highway, and helicopter mom stops the car, gets out of the seat, and walks around to the mini-van door, which she has already electronically opened. When one sees the door automatically open, one would expect a child to emerge. But this can’t happen until mom gets to that side, finishes dressing the child in the mini-van, ensures jackets and backpacks are properly secured so as not to cause back trauma, has a 10-minute conversation with the teacher on duty about who knows what, then hugs the child as if he were going on an extended vacation to Tahiti. Finally he begrudgingly steps onto the sidewalk, but not before mom rolls down the passenger window and throws out a mini hand sanitizer with a sticky note instructing him not to forget to use it after contact with any inanimate object.
Now fast forward about twelve years. Once again I find myself in the drop-off line, this time in front of my daughter’s college dorm in New York City. I look like a pack mule: I arrive before the delivery company toting 2 large, overstuffed suitcases with an espresso machine nested under my arm. A line of vehicles extends around the block and limited elevators means that space is tight and access is on a first come, “no-serve” basis. As I’m standing in line at the elevator pondering whether my daughter will graduate before I get up to her 12th floor dorm room, I begin to think about what I’m doing. I’m actually moving my daughter away from my home and into another one! A strong dose of reality causes separation anxiety set in. Being the first through the drop-off line across the foyer to the elevator door is no longer a priority. My new goal is to prolong her departure as long as possible. I relate my experience this way: Imagine being five years old and being given a puppy as a present. You feed it, care for it, love it, then after a while you are told that it is going to live at another house. The puppy has grown up and it no longer needs you anymore. This is exactly how I felt!
In order to prolong the inevitable after carefully unpacking her room I invited my daughter to dinner, and when that was over we shared a shuttle to my hotel so she could recover the remnants of her things. Soon, there was nothing else to do or say, and I found myself putting her in a cab to her dorm. Holding back tears, I watched her pull away from the curb. I couldn’t help but think that I was no longer in the driver’s seat. I was relegated to the back. I was no more than an observer, watching a young woman begin a new journey. Hopefully as she travels she’ll turn down the radio every once in a while and tell me how she likes the view, point out something of interest, and maybe even ask for my advice when she comes to a fork in the road. I will have my map out, and will be waiting.