My daughter left for her first year in college in August. It has now been 7 full weeks since move in day. Some say it takes 21 days to break a habit. Some say it takes 21 days to form a new one. But I’m attempting to follow the 21/90 philosophy which after 21 days to build a new reality and another 90 following that, a lifestyle change WILL be adopted. It will become the new norm. And I’m anxious to get to the new norm. My 21/90-day commitment includes trying not to freak out. I’m doing okay. But I’m only on day 49.
All of last summer I let my emotions leak out in whisper sized amounts. A slow leak in a very large balloon. I kept taking cues from her. If she is okay, surely I will be okay. Lucky for both of us, she kept her crap together.
The week before we moved her into college, her youngest brother, ten years old, asked me if her dorm room was just like Zootopia. Zootopia? He wanted to know, was it going to look like the room Judy Hopps gets in Zootopia. I didn’t even know what he meant with the Zootopia reference. So I Googled it.
Due to copyright issues, I will not include a photo of the room but I will describe it for you. It’s a small narrow room. One window. A hazy light fills the room. Judy is a small bunny who has a tiny suitcase with her. There is a twin bed pushed up against one wall with a blue coverlet. There is a wooden desk and a chair and a small gooseneck lamp. There is one open shelf on the wall with nothing on it. The wallpaper is a vertical pattern of light gold and one section of the wall is red brick . There are two tiny pieces of art in frames over the bed. Judy is small and alone and facing out the window.
I burst into tears. Don’t look up the photo if you have a brand new college student or your kid just moved out on their own for the first time or unless you are in a very good mental place. My anxiety started to swell.
Maybe she was going to be that bunny. On her own in a barren room looking out the window. OH MY GOD what if my daughter is Judy the bunny all through college!? And I felt afraid about the whole college thing and the room and what it would look like and how she would do once she got there. And a part of me just wanted to know what it would be like several weeks into the future. Would she be ok? Would we?
And then we dropped her off and she was gone. Just gone. And the sensation is not what I expected yet feels oddly familiar. It feels exactly like when the power goes out and you keep trying to flip on the lights only to remember again the power is out. Sometimes I’ll hear someone upstairs and think it’s her. Then I remember she is gone. Or it feels like she is just at work and will be bursting through the door with the tales of the day. But she is gone. Or it seems like she is at camp and will be back soon for good with a pile of laundry. Except she is gone. Or I’m running through the grocery store and think I still need to hunt down the dehydrated strawberries she likes. But she is gone. It’s just like when the power goes out. It takes a while for the brain and the house to adjust. And I have to remind myself she has a whole new adventure unfolding and it isn’t unfolding here.
But we have arrived at some semblance of the new world order. Things are different. Dinners are quieter. The kid bathroom is cleaner. We do not run out of cotton balls. Now there is Facetime. And texting. And I downloaded Snapchat after a long absence so she can send me a quick picture and I can assess if she is eating and sleeping and what she wore on Tuesday. We are using Find My Friends for the very first time and sometimes I just look at the tiny picture of her on the little location dot right where it is supposed to be and I smile. And I am following her University on Instagram and stalking their story like a jealous boyfriend scanning for an unexpected glimpse of her. AND I EVEN SAW HER IN A PHOTO. And she/I/the whole family have survived the first few weeks. We have all pressed on past a breakup, joining five new clubs, losing a medication, a disagreement over a car, the first family birthday where she was not present and the “hardest test” she has ever taken. And she and we have made it through okay. It appears that she is doing better than we are and for that I am grateful.
And then we made it all the way to Family Weekend. Family Weekend is strategically scheduled right as the student and/or their family have arrived at the about to flip out point. We ran a family 5k and she and I cheated together. And I got to see all 3 of my favorite kids together again and all felt right in the world. And we talked to her delightful roommate and they are getting along wonderfully and making plans together. And her roommate’s family made us an amazing chicken posole and we met some of her new friends. And we saw her room and it was cozy and ate in her dining hall and it was good and bought some salsa that she made in her Microbiology class. And we walked around campus and it’s not ugly.
And she seems…comfortable. Possibly happy. And I’m afraid to let myself get too excited because this is what we had all been hoping for but I’m content because she is content.
I ended up going back to my ten-year-old to ask him what made him ask about the room looking like Zootopia. I thought maybe he was anxious about her leaving. He said, “Oh. You told me rooms in college are simple. She just gets a bed and a desk and you bring all of the other stuff. I just thought it probably looks plain like that when she first moves in.” I laughed. He is right. It was simple. Before her photos and lights and decorations were up and her fluffy blanket and her pillow that looks like her dog were on her bed. Before the desk held her books and carefully selected school supplies. Before her dried strawberries and her beauty blenders and her tennis shoes and ample sweatshirt collection moved in. Until it became her own place, before it became her home away from home, it was just a plain room. In the movie, Judy Hopps ends up sorting stuff out and working hard and doing amazing things with new friends by her side. And I suspect my daughter will do the same.
I do really wonder how Judy’s mother is holding up. I should really Facetime her and check in.