Sending my daughter off to college has been one of my greatest joys. As difficult as it was for me when she left and as empty as the house now feels in her absence, it’s brought me a sense of pride and comfort knowing that she’s reached yet another milestone in her life. She’s experiencing everything I had hoped for. She’s taking it all in, learning how to adapt to the demands of college life, making new friends, growing emotionally and, hopefully, taking another important step toward becoming the person I’ve always known she could be.
The truth is though, while she’s off on her own trying life on for size and aiming to figure out who she is, what she may not realize is that I already know who she is.
Even when she was a baby… I knew who she was.
When she woke up crying at 3 a.m. like clockwork every night, not because she was hungry or needed her diaper changed, but because she simply wanted to feel my touch and know I was there, I knew who she was. When she was in preschool with her pigtails and polka dot nail polish clinging to my leg for dear life fearful of letting go and then finally mustering up the courage to loosen her grip and tearfully wave goodbye as the door closed behind her… I knew who she was.
In elementary and middle school when she learned to navigate the tumultuous waters of friendships, drama, and boys all while slowly finding her voice, and when she was in high school, looking all too grown up, gaining her independence and making decisions on her own, I could still see the little girl in her I knew all too well… I knew who she was.
Now that she’s ventured off to college though, for the first time since the day she was born, I find myself worrying about something I never worried about before.
I worry about who my girl is.
Not because I don’t trust her, have faith in her or believe in her, but because she’s no longer within arm’s reach. Although we have a strong relationship, I know all too well her desire to break free. As she should and as I’d hope she would, she’s spreading her wings to fly.
I want her to have the freedom to find out who she is, seek out her future on her own, venture into new territory, find out what and who she loves, embrace what inspires her, ask questions she never thought to ask and ponder the what if’s. I want her to throw caution to the wind, (within reason, of course), try new things, make mistakes, learn her limitations, find out what motivates her and take in the beauty of the open road that leads to her future.
She deserves that. I owe it to my daughter to step back, take a back seat and give her the freedom to fly.
Still, as hard as I try, I find myself worrying.
I worry that on her journey to find herself she’ll lose track of who she is and, perhaps lose herself along the way. Along with the mountain of positive experiences and influences that accompany college life, I worry she’ll get caught up in the whirlwind of college life and won’t stay true to herself.
Maybe I’m drawing from my own experiences, but I know all too well that in college, the idea of “being yourself” is easier said than done. In the flurry of a new environment, new experiences, and new people and influences it’s easy to become so distracted by the way you wish you were, the way you think you should be or the way others assume you to be that you can lose sight of what is actually real and true. You can lose sight of who you are.
In my search to find some sense of solitude and reasoning behind the subtle changes I see in my daughter, I’ve come to realize something. Although it’s taken me a while to get here, my realization has brought me a world of comfort.
College isn’t simply a destination, it’s a process.
The next four years of my daughter’s life are an unwritten chapter. She’s finding out who she is and learning a little bit more about herself through every new experience, every new person she meets and every mistake she makes. It’s a journey of self-discovery she has to make on her own. And, even though her taste in fashion or music might change, or I might notice subtle changes in her mannerisms or even her outlook on life, it’s all part of the necessary discovery process to find out who she is.
College is about learning, growing, making choices, learning from those choices and maybe too, it’s about conforming, perhaps for a little while, and emerging as a new person with fresh insight, knowledge, skills and perhaps, resolve about who you are.
I’ve realized that in order for my daughter to find herself, maybe she needs to immerse herself, and quite possibly lose herself, to help her discover and unveil who she really is. Maybe she needs to take that journey, gather what she’s learned with all the influences, lessons, wisdom and perhaps even heartache to bridge the gap between who she is now and who she’ll one day become.
So, as concerned as I am about my daughter losing a little bit of herself in college, I’m far more concerned about her having not tried, experienced, discovered, loved and lost. And, while she may still be on the search to find herself when she’s finished with college, I feel certain that when she steps off that campus for the very last time she’ll be that much wiser, stronger, resilient and perhaps one step closer to knowing who she is and one step closer to becoming the woman she’s one day destined to become.