This is the the third installment of a yearlong series in which a stay-at-home mom chronicles her youngest daughter’s senior year of high school and the college admissions process. She also relates her parallel journey as she prepares for an empty nest and considers what to do with the rest of her life now that her stay-at-home job is ending. Read the first and second installments.
Three years ago, as my younger daughter was preparing to enter high school, a friend of mine was preparing to send her youngest to college. “How does it feel?” I kept asking, a question formed from jealousy and fear and hope and a feeling of impossibility, because I could not imagine a time when my youngest child would leave for college. She was 14 and just entering high school, and I’d barely managed to get through my older daughter’s difficult high school years. Even though I was sending my oldest off to college at the same time, I felt like I would be stuck in a time warp with my youngest—that, somehow, senior year would not come, that it was not possible to get to senior year.
“It’s hard to believe,” my friend said, “and it’s going to be weird.” All three of her kids would be in college at the same time, and for the first time in 21 years, she and her husband would regularly be alone in their own home.
I took to signing our emails with both my name and the number of years and months I had left until my younger daughter left for college. “Three years, 18 months,” I remember typing in one. Then, “two years, 11 months.” I wasn’t trying to wish the time away, but at the same time I was. High school was a battlefield that we had no choice but to fight our way through. By typing the years and months, I wasn’t hoping for my daughter to leave. Now I see that I was trying to remind myself she would.
Yesterday, I baked her cookies. I love to bake. I find it one of the most relaxing and pleasant things I can do in my spare time. My daughter loves having cookies to stick in the lunches she takes to her job as a summer camp counselor and then for dessert at night, which she brings up to my bed so we can have one last treat together before we go to sleep. It dawned on me as I was baking those cookies yesterday—red velvet is her current favorite—that my cookie baking days for her are numbered. What will it be like when I’m no longer mixing batter for her cookies twice a week, or for her favorite double-chocolate breakfast muffins at least once a week?
I suppose I can still send her cookies and muffins at college. In fact, I’m sure that I will. I imagine boxes full of cookies and muffins and brownies, a PO Box number written in chunky black Magic Marker, a race to get them to the post office so they can be as fresh as possible when they arrive. She’ll share them with her roommate and her friends, and she’ll tell them how her mom has always baked for her, since she was a little girl. She’ll be popular with her tasty baked goods. Of course, she would be popular anyway.
But it won’t be the same, and that’s what I’m getting out of this whole last year of high school. Things won’t be the same. I’m a big fan of sameness. I don’t like change. I like to know the restaurant menu. I like to know the route I’m going to take. I like to know what’s going to happen next. My daughter’s senior year of high school—the not knowing what’s going to happen—is testing the core of who I am.
She’s chosen to apply to 10 schools—a good mix of places—targets, reaches and safeties, and she says she would be happy going to any of them. That’s the key. The happiness part.
So I could be sending cookies out West next year. Or I could be sending cookies one state over. Or she could be so close that I could just drive the damn cookies right to her dorm. I don’t know. And I don’t like not to know. But I will have to live with that for now. Because uncertainty is a big part of senior year—for the kid and for the parents.