My cell phone rang at 10:45 p.m. and when I looked down I saw it was my daughter. In New York it was almost 2:00 a.m., on a Monday night. This would not be good news as I had already heard from her through text today that she had overslept and was overwhelmed. When I answered, “Hi Sweetie… What’s going on?”, a tearful unintelligible response came back. I had to tell her to calm down and breathe so I could understand what she was saying. She was agonizing over a first draft of a paper due tomorrow, and the fact that she is feeling chronically behind, that her roomates are treating her badly, (I want to kill them), that she isn’t living up to her own expectations in school, and that she keeps having to make excuses to her professors. And the worst thing, that she feels like she can’t feel comfortable in her own room, like she doesn’t have her own space. (Did I mention that I want to smack her roomates upside their heads who never clean up after themselves? My daughter spent all day saturday cleaning the dorm/suite).
This is a mother’s torture. I can’t make her pain go away. It will never be something I can get used to. When they are babies and they have pain, the response is immediate. They need to be held or nursed, rocked to sleep with lullabies and soothing words. But this is so different. I can’t fix it. I can only trust that her pain is a part of her growth and important for her to go through. I can’t write a note to the teacher or sit down with her to help her write her paper.
I did what I could. I asked her to read me the email she was writing to her teacher and told her that it sounded good, not like an excuse but an honest communication about how she is struggling with time management, being sick, and adjusting to being on her own for the first time. We talked about how this is the hardest part, first semester of freshman year, an adjustment phase. She felt soothed, stopped crying, and then went to bed.
My adjustment phase is here too. It’s a very different kind of parenting – less immediate but no less important. I am now a voice of soothing through the phone, not an immediate presence to kiss the “owie” or wipe away her tears.
When we got off the phone I felt intense anxiety. I had to remind myself that nothing terrible is happening. She isn’t failing, she is safe, has food to eat and a bed to sleep in. She is just going through a rough spot, one of many yet to come as a college student.
As I wind down to sleep my gratitude is that I am able to connect with her, to empathize, to validate, to help her put things into perspective. Somehow this too shall pass and she, (and I), will both be stronger for it.