Geoffrey and I help Laura load up the borrowed station wagon to take her off to college. I am excited for her—and for me. I will have the house to myself, a clean, quiet place without the phone’s incessant ringing or the monotonous musical scales of her flute floating up the stairs or the sound of my stereo having a heart attack from blasting sounds that no one with discerning taste or sensitive ears would ever consider music. I am the lioness whose young is leaving the den, confident she is ready. Finally, I am.
As we fill every inch of my brother’s station wagon, I wonder how we will fit all my daughter’s paraphernalia in a room the size of a telephone booth. We quarrel as I try to encourage her to leave some things home. I fear Laura is in for a rude awakening and that Geoffrey and I will suffer the consequences of having to lug back home ridiculous clothing — shorts and halter tops that will be worn only another two weeks before the weather cools.
But I am wrong. Miraculously, my determined daughter finds a place for everything. Her brother has somehow managed to hang her street signs and posters on cinderblock walls. Laura has fit all her clothes from a huge closet at home into a hole the size of a soup bowl. (I have a vision of the time we took the kids to the circus, and 17 clowns got into a yellow Volkswagon.)
Her underwear, belts, socks all fit into the four clothes bins from K-Mart. Books and other school supplies are placed neatly on the desk. There is even room for the emergency food supplies she may need for the inevitable midnight munchy madness while studying. She has managed to make this tiny room look cozy and homey with the same magic touch she used on her doll house when she was ten.
As Geoff and I return to Baltimore, he says, “Mom, we did good.” I have to agree. He drops me off at home, takes the wagon back to my brother, and returns to his own house. Gratefully, I am alone. I collapse on the bed with a Cheshire smile, looking forward to the peace and solitude I can now enjoy.
It is my first day back to work after taking Laura to school. I look forward to coming home to my peaceful house. Why did I not expect the house to be dark? No one is home to greet me, save Kat, and he is only marginally interested in my return since there’s plenty of food in his bowl. I check for messages. The little red light on the answering machine is not blinking its welcoming hello, announcing someone has missed me. I turn on more lights than I need.
I miss the inviting smell of dinner cooking, and the table is not set for the two of us. Even the house appears different, naked without sheet music making its way along the floor to the music stand that she did not want me to buy (but never ceased to use). No wet clothes are drying on every chair because they would shrink in the dryer. There are no notes on the dining room table reporting what groceries we are out of or where she has gone and when she will return. Not a shred of evidence that anyone else ever lived here.
But wait, this is what I have been yearning for. I am going to enjoy this peace. I open the Evening Sun but cannot concentrate; no haunting flute music is floating around, filling the empty air. Hmmm, why had I noticed only the scales before and never the beauty of her music? I quit the paper and turn on my stereo. Incredibly, I miss changing the station.
A tuna sandwich and some canned vegetable soup provide a lack-luster dinner, so I turn on the news for company. Murders, fires, drug busts. Shivering, I turn off the television, clean up the few dinner dishes, and start reading for my class tomorrow. I come across some interesting facts in my political science book and start to mention it to Laura. She is not there. I want to share this time with her as we have done for the past three years since I decided to go to college. Sighing, I realize I miss the camaraderie of studying simultaneously, though independently. Tonight, my heart’s not in it.
Old memories are flooding back, reminding me of Geoffrey’s first day of nursery school. I remember watching as my four-year-old sauntered toward the bus that would take him to his first day at Beth Jacob’s Nursery school. He was wearing his new navy corduroys with the cuffs turned up because there had been no time to hem them. I’d begun to walk down the path to the street where the bus waited. “No Mom,” he said as he put his palm on my leg indicating I should stay. “I’m big now. I can go by myself. See?” And he turned to go.
As he reached the open doors of the bus, swinging his shiny new G.I. Joe lunch box containing his favorite lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, thermos of Kool-Aid, and chocolate chip cookies, he turned back toward the house and lifted his little hand to wave good-bye. I remember having to turn quickly away after a brief wave so he wouldn’t see my tears. I wondered if this had been how Mrs. Chocolate, our old setting hen, felt as she pecked our hands when we tried to take away her eggs. But “never mind, he’ll be fine,” I told myself. Laura, my infant daughter, required my constant attention. I would be kept busy all morning with my new baby until Geoffrey returned home.
It was three years later when I took Laura to her first day at the Educare Day Care Center. Even at three-years-old, she liked to choose her own clothes. I recall wincing, but saying nothing, when I saw her dressed in a mustard yellow jersey and purple pants. I had put her long blond hair in two ponytails high above her ears but could not find matching bead fasteners and was forced to use one red and one green. We still have the commemorative photographs we took that morning.
She was so excited about going to school, but when it was time for me to leave her, it became obvious how different my children were. Laura, more attached to me and wary of strangers, screamed and, clutching my leg cried, “Mommy, don’t leave me, don’t leave me!” I had to go to work. Trying hard to keep my tears from spilling, I looked at the day care teacher. “Tell me what to do.”
“Just leave,” Miss Thompson told me. “She’ll be fine. I promise.”
I called the second I arrived at work, and Miss Thompson said my baby stopped crying and forgot all about my leaving minutes after I’d gone. Forgot about me “minutes” after I’d gone? There were those tears again. Would I ever get used to my children growing up?
And so, the day arrived. Laura has been gone just two days, and I miss her, a crisis I did not face when my first-born went to college since he was at a nearby community college and lived close to home. Plus, he came over often for dinner and usually with a sheepish grin and Santa Clause size sack. “Mom, could I use the washer and dryer?”
Besides, just as when he went off to nursery school, Laura was still there, still needing her mother, albeit rarely admitting it. We shopped together, studied together, watched T.V. together, even shared clothes. I think I still have some hand-me-ups.
Now my baby, my Laura, has grown up and begun her own independent life. She has matured to a beautiful, smart, talented, and self-assured young woman, and I am proud of her. She has grown to the woman I had hoped. I’ve waited 18 years to enjoy this quietness. I should be past the tears. But it’s as if the sun has not risen today. Perhaps tomorrow.
Read more by Linda Miller.