We got our baby girl off to college without a hitch on Thursday. She was assigned a move-in time of 2:00 to 4:00, so there was no rush to get out-of-town. I woke up early and so did Kacey, but the hours prior to departure still passed too quickly.

She and Connor had agreed to say their goodbyes on Wednesday night, but in a sudden change of plans, he came over Thursday morning after his class ended at 9:00. (He’s taking classes at the local community college this year, so he’ll remain home while she’s away.) Connor helped pack the truck and ran a last-minute errand with us. When it was time to leave, he and Kacey went outside to say goodbye. My heart broke when she came back in the house a little while later, trying to stop crying. I know this separation will be difficult for them. They are so close and used to seeing each other nearly every day. But if what they have is real, this time apart will be a good test of the strength of their relationship.

There was even a rare display of affection from big brother Jake as Kacey headed out the door. Jake was unable to come along for the ride due to his work schedule, so as we were leaving, he called out, “Bye Kaydice!” (Kaydice has long been the boys’ nickname for their little sis.) “Have fun at college!”

It may not seem like much, but believe me, coming from Jake, that was a huge display of love and emotion!

I couldn’t have asked for a better day or such a smooth transition for Kacey’s move. Aside from the fact that it was 93 degrees outside, warmer than it’s been in weeks, it was a beautiful day.

College is only just over an hour away from home, (which makes me very happy! I like that she’s not too far away.) There were four flights of stairs to travel to the dorm room and the sweat was running down my back by the time we got all of her belongings moved from the truck to the room. Kacey’s roommate had arrived a couple of hours ahead of us, so her side of the room was pretty well settled and she made herself scarce so we could help Kacey get moved in. And I have to say, I was pretty impressed with how she packed. She made sure she had all of her necessary comforts without overdoing it. Granted, she has to come home in two weeks for a family wedding, so that made the decision-making process much easier. She’s only got to get through these two weeks and if she discovers she’s desperately missing anything, we can make sure she gets it before she goes back to school after the wedding.

We put the room together in pretty short order. The hardest part was getting the bed made because it was lofted. I wish Kacey luck when it comes time to change her sheets. It’s a two-person job for sure! She said she hoped she and her roommate could tag-team when it came time for that chore.

By the time we got her settled in the room, her friend Liz was texting her. Liz is Kacey’s friend from way back in Kindergarten and they’ve remained friends through high school, even though they’ve traveled with different circles over the past few years. Turns out that Liz’s dorm is only a block away from Kacey. The two girls agreed to meet and go pick up their book orders at the book store. Mark said we would drive them, since the book store is located way down a famously steep hill and it would be difficult for the girls to have to walk back up with boxes full of heavy books, especially on such a hot and humid day. (During our initial tour of the school, our tour guide described the student body’s reputation for having the best thighs and butts due to the steepness of this famous hill!)

When Liz walked over from her dorm, I told her how good it was to see her. I am so glad Kacey has someone from home to lean on as she learns how to navigate the campus and college life. As we drove to the book store, I couldn’t help but think that this was all happening so much easier than I had expected. I hadn’t expected to feel comfortable at all about leaving my baby girl behind. I expected to feel a stone in my heart throughout the move-in process. But Kacey was so happy and confident. She seemed ready to tackle the world. It was hard to be too sad when she was absolutely embracing this next phase of her life.

Of course, the time had to come when we had to say goodbye and reality hit me then. We drove back to the dorm from the book store and realized she really had no need for us to stay any longer. The girls from her dorm were gathering in a short while to have dinner together and start to get to know one another. It was time for us to go.

I got out of the truck and walked around to the other side to say goodbye to her. I wrapped my arms around her, told her I loved her and kissed her. I felt the sadness welling up inside of me and I was finding it hard to keep it at bay as the tears began to fall. Kacey’s arms were wrapped around me too and we reluctantly let go. My heart ached as I watched her walking away and up the steps into her dorm. She seemed so little and so grown up all at the same time. I’ve envisioned and hoped for this moment for years, but watching it play out in front of my eyes was harder than I’d ever imagined.

Mark let me be for a while as we drove away. After a time, he asked if I was okay and I nodded. I know she’s only a short distance away. I know she’ll be home in just two weeks. Technically, I can hop in the car and go see her almost anytime I want. But I won’t. I want to give her a chance to spread her wings. I’ll let her decide when and if she wants me to come visit and only then will I go.

Of course, family and friends called to ask how it went and if Kacey got settled okay. I told everyone how well it went and that it couldn’t have gone better. But when I woke up Friday morning, the first thought in my mind was Kacey. She’s not here and I miss her. Yes, she’s eighteen years old and on any given day, I might see her only in passing, if at all. But as this long weekend looms ahead, I can’t help but think how I’ll miss seeing her emerge from her bedroom, lazy and late in the morning, her long hair a mess. I’ll miss the way she never hesitated to hug me good morning and I’ll miss how she shares her world with me through her wonderful stories. Yes, we can text message. Yes, we can talk on the phone and Skype. But I miss having her here already.

Even Jake, the rock of the family misses her. I called home from work as I was leaving late yesterday to let someone know I was finally on my way home. Jake picked up the phone and he said, “It’s so weird here, Mom. It’s so quiet and it feels empty in the house.”

He mentioned coming home from work, late the night before. He talked about how he always sees her bedroom door shut across from his and that it was strange to see that door open and know that she wasn’t inside the room, asleep in her bed. I’m not surprised he misses her. When they were little, the two of them often played happily together. In their teen years, they had less tolerance of one another and often teased each other to no end, making me crazy with their bickering. It makes me happy to see that Jake has rediscovered he actually likes his sister and that he’ll miss her while she’s away. We’re all growing up a little bit more with this experience.

So it’s going to be an especially quiet weekend for me. Brad is back in Fargo for the school year, but returning in two weeks for the wedding. Mark and Jake are working all weekend and my baby girl will be busy discovering the joys of college life. The quiet inside this house may take some getting used to, but I’ll be okay. I might even be looking forward a little bit to a whole long weekend of doing nothing but what I want and need to do. But still… I sure am looking forward to two weeks from now when it’s noisy and crazy in this house again!

It's the BIG day!

JakeHat2I am happy to report that Jake has recuperated and he’s ready to graduate from high school tonight! He’ll also be able to attend the Senior All-Night party. I’m so glad. I hated the thought of him missing out on these final celebrations. If anyone deserves to celebrate, it is Jake.

I am so proud of this kid I am just ready to burst. School was never easy for Jake. From the time he was in kindergarten, it became clear that there were going to be obstacles for Jake to overcome. But he struggled and fought and put in extra time making sure he earned the grades and the credits he needed to pass. Last year, he decided he was not going to spend one more summer in summer school. He worked his butt off and passed all of his classes. For the first time in four years, his summer was free and clear.

This year, Jake knew he was on the home stretch. It became clear to me that he had grown up immensely. He took charge of his studies and did what he had to do to achieve his goals. The year wasn’t without its roadblocks and on more than one occasion, words of anger and frustration erupted in our house over school issues. In his final trimester, he struggled with a Physics course that was a requirement for graduation. I think we all worried every day about him earning this particular credit. And it was tough, but he did it!

This morning, I was thinking about the significance of this day for Jake. For some kids, school is a walk in the park. For others, like Jake, it’s a battlefield. He’s such an intelligent kid. He just couldn’t function as easily in a traditional classroom as so many others. There are two very special teachers who made a significant and positive impact on my son over the past four years. I bought thank you cards and a small gift for each of them, as if such a small token can ever convey the appreciation I feel for them for making my son feel important and capable. Some teachers are angels and these two definitely qualify. I wasn’t surprised to have received an email from one of them today, saying, “Today is the BIG day! Are you ready??” She went on to mention that she had a little something for Jake and would try to catch up with him at the graduation ceremony tonight so she could give it to him. I wonder if she’ll ever know just how very wrong Jake’s course could have gone if not for teachers like her.

It’s true.  Today is a  very BIG day. Jake is graduating!!!

He will soar

My middle child is an amazing kid. The problem is, he doesn’t  often remember it. He can be imaginitive and ambitious. His personality is adventurous and full of humor. He has a gentle heart and a loving spirit. But the simple act of going to school can make all that disappear. He retreats inside himself and hides all those spectacular qualities away. You see, Jake and school are not a good mix. Oh, he loves the social aspect. It’s the classes he’d prefer to avoid. In class, Jake often feels lost and inadequate. He is a very intelligent kid, but has such trouble focusing and proving himself in the traditional ways.

We have spent years trying to help Jake find his niche. I feel as though we have been fighting and battling, ever step of the way. There has been encouragement and discipline. There were times we pleaded and bribed. We tried to develop routines. There were often heated words and tears. I have read so many books and we have tried everything possible to help my son find what works for him. There have been a few teachers, a few gems who have a gift with kids and have helped Jake not only merely pass, but succeed in ways he never thought possible. But the sad reality is those teachers were few and far between. And the current system just isn’t set up to accommodate certain kids and there is nothing parents like  us can do about it. It took me a while to realize it but Jake stopped fighting long ago. He does what he can. Sometimes we have to “remind” him to stay on top of things. He is merely counting the days until his life can finally move beyond high school.

Over the holiday break the real Jake came back and I loved seeing him so confident and relaxed. As you can imagine, summers are a wonderful time for us too. Most recently, the kids enjoyed another long, though unexpected break. Last Thursday and Friday, school was cancelled due to extremely cold weather and they didn’t have to return until Wednesday of this week because of the MLK holiday and parent/teacher conferences on Tuesday. Over that long, long weekend, the real Jake resurfaced again. When I came home from work last night, I realized that he had retreated yet again. I hate that. I miss my happy, relaxed kid. I hate that he judges himself against a system that doesn’t work for everyone. I hate that he can’t help but compare himself to “the norm.” When I tried to talk to him last night, I received one word answers and little eye contact. I felt confused for a moment before I caught on to what was going on. I thought maybe he had had a trying day at school, but that wasn’t necessarily it. There is another session of parent/teacher conferences tonight and he knows we plan to go. It is tempting for me to just skip them, but I know I need to stay in touch with his teachers.

The thing is, Jake is passing. I don’t care whether his report card shows As, Cs or Ds. As long as he does the best he can and turns in his work, that’s all we ask. I just want him to pass. Years from now, no one will care whether he passed Physics with an A or a D. He has fought hard and he’ll graduate but it has been a battle. Where his grades are concerned, what is acceptable in our eyes for him might be cause for concern if it were one of our other kids. That’s ok. The current system can’t offer alternative methods for kids like Jake who don’t function well in a traditional classroom and won’t award him with the kind of grades that prove what a highly intelligent person he is. I hate that this very fact weighs on him so heavily. He is so much more than the school system would let him believe. I know he will someday, but I wish he could realize now that there is so much more to life than this. In a few short months, he can walk out the doors of that high school for good and the world can be full of possibility and doors just waiting for him to open them. He can’t wait for that day, and neither can I. He has wings and he can spread them and fly. He just needs the chance to believe it.