We’re having us a four-day weekend here! In Minnesota, there is an annual teachers’ convention, known as M.E.A., held on the Thursday and Friday of the third week of October and therefore, there is no school for the K-12 crowd. Our family has developed some annual traditions around this little break. When the boys were old enough, Mark began taking them hunting over M.E.A., carrying on a tradition begun long ago with his own dad. Kacey and I began our own tradition of celebrating mom and daughter time, and so I always take these days off of work.
This year, there was some question as to whether I’d be able to have the days off, due to the recent job cuts in my department. We had all been asked to be flexible about our vacation time and I knew I might have to give up the days I had long been planning to have off. But it all worked out in the end. I was very grateful it did since Kacey will be graduating this spring and this will be the last year we get to enjoy this particular mini-vacation.
I guess I’m sentimental this year as every day that passes, I am reminded that my baby will soon be leaving the nest and life as we know it will drastically change. So it was all the more important to me that I be able to have a couple of vacation days to enjoy this last M.E.A. break with my girl. And this year, we’re doing something a little different as well as doing something that has become a tradition.
The new thing this year involved a college visit, which we did today. A few weeks ago, I told Kacey we needed to take advantage of the time off from school and go visit a college. I wanted to do it while classes were in session and we could see what a typical day at college looks like. She hasn’t decided where she wants to go yet, and application deadlines are fast approaching. She had a little trouble deciding which school to visit, but she did tell me that she had decided it was important not to be too far from home, meaning, not more than a few hour’s drive. So she knew she wanted to pick something that was a manageable drive. I was doing the happy dance inside when she told me that! I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m going to be the one feeling the pain of her living away from home when the time comes. She’s not just my daughter, she’s my friend. And as much as I want her to go out and take on the world, I’m going to miss her “like the deserts miss the rain.”
So Kacey searched college websites and debated where to go, and I finally told her to just pick one, any one. I told her it was just one day and one visit and didn’t mean she was making any serious decisions. So she picked the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, about an hour and a half from home.
With a decision finally in place, she wanted to know if she could bring a friend, and it was no surprise that she picked Hailey, one of her closest friends. Hailey is a high school junior and has another whole year to make decisions about school, but she was more than happy to tag along for the tour. We left home around ten o’clock this morning and had a very enjoyable drive. The girls were talkative and kept me laughing and soon I found myself telling them stories of when I was their age. Next thing I knew, Kacey was telling me one of those things that a mom always hopes her daughter will share with her, but never knows for sure. I won’t embarrass her by getting into too much detail about what she told me. It’s nothing too worrisome, just relationship stuff that so many kids her age have to face; things that often wear on the heart more seriously than many adults would remember about that time in their own lives. When she told me her story, I felt so proud of her for handling things maturely and doing her best not to hurt another’s feelings, as much as it is possible not to hurt another’s feelings when you have to tell them that the things they feel for you are not the same things you feel for them.
Anyway, the story made me think about how I would never have been able to talk to my own mom about such things at that age. I felt honored that Kacey felt comfortable telling me her story and I told her so, and thanked her for being open with me. And do you know what she said?
“Why wouldn’t I? I tell you everything.” She said it so matter-of-factly and I don’t think she had any idea what a gift that little exchange was to me.
The drive to the school was only an hour and a half and soon we were navigating our way to the designated parking lot, checking in and filling up bags with brochures and information. We sat through a short informational session and then were on to the good stuff – a campus tour. We had a really personable tour guide, a college senior named Kristen and she made the tour fun. UW Eau Claire is a medium-sized school – about 11,000 students. The campus itself isn’t overwhelming in size and there were many things with which I was impressed. But I knew that what was more important was whether or not my daughter was impressed.
After the tour was over and we left campus, we stopped for a bite to eat and had a chance to talk. Both girls had found many things about the school that they liked and I was impressed with the thought they had put into it. The dorms, of course, were of great importance and were a big part of the conversation. Throughout the day, as we toured the campus, I couldn’t help but think about how capable and confident my daughter can be and I could picture her going to classes, eating in the cafeteria, participating in intramural sports, and generally making friends and spreading her wings. But another part of me pictured her in those dorm rooms at the end of the day and I wondered if she’d feel at home there, or if she’d find herself homesick. That last thought broke my heart. For the most part, I know she can handle college. I believe she’s going to love it and she’ll embrace this new phase of her life. But what if she doesn’t?
These were the thoughts that were weighing on me as the topic of dorm rooms and room mates came up. The girls talked about how they knew it was possible they might find themselves in a dorm with a roommate with whom they aren’t compatible. It was then that I mentioned Heather, another friend of Kacey’s who has placed this school as one of her top choices. Honestly, I think it is best if Kacey goes to school and learns to thrive in a new environment with new people and not relying too heavily on friends from home. I’ve known kids who have gone off to college and roomed with high school friends, only to find the friendships didn’t last and feeling as if they’d missed out on an important college experience.
Kacey seemed to know where my thoughts were. She told me right off, “Oh, Heather and I already talked about this. Even if we both end up going to school here, we’re not going to room with each other. We’re going to take the room mates we are assigned, make new friends, and then introduce our new friends to each other.” Hailey was in full agreement with this plan. I felt so proud of these girls. They really have it together. I was so different from them at that age – so lost and uncertain. It makes me happy that they are so comfortable with who they are, so open to new possibilities and much less afraid of change than I ever managed to be.
And an added bonus… during the car ride home, I just listened to them interacting with one another. They are the kind of friends who can finish one another’s sentences, who share silly inside jokes and who very simply enjoy life. I couldn’t help but be happy just to spend the day with them. It was a great day!
Tomorrow we’ll enjoy our traditional thing… a day of shopping. I’ll have my sister for company and Kacey will have another friend, Brianna. The Shops at Albertville is our destination – a huge outlet mall which boasts many of our favorite stores and then some. I’m quite sure we’ll find something to buy