1. Go to a trunk show approximately 250 miles from home. This is for work, not properly part of dropping your daughter off at college. You made this commitment before you fully realized that it was the same week you’d need to take your daughter to college, because you, madam, are A Really Poor Planner. Bask in a sinking sense of failure in the evenings and knit on your little grey shawl.
2. Complete the trunk show. Feel happy and exhausted, like you do after every trunk show. Drive another 120 miles from trunk show to your best friend’s house. The drive takes you through the small town where you grew up, which always makes you a little sad. It’s a sad place for a lot of reasons, some personal, some economic. This doesn’t help. Being at your best friend’s place helps some, though, because your best friend is one of the most incredible people in the universe, known or unknown. Spend the night drinking really excellent whiskey and talking about life. Knit on your little grey shawl.
3. Meet up with your family to drive to the college. This is much more challenging than it sounds, due to the mysteries of GPS and the intricacies of downtown Hartford, but manage it anyway in the end, complete with much cursing and some high- end familial tension. Good, good stuff. In the car, knit on your little grey shawl.
4. Drive to the college, another 2 hours from your best friend’s house. Conceal anxiety with butt jokes and pop culture references. Buy snacks in a gas station in northern Massachusetts, and be sure to act like a complete ass while at it. The phrase, “Don’t steal string cheese,” should be uttered repeatedly, and at top volume, for maximum efficacy. Spend the rest of the drive laughing, and stupidly drop stitches in your little grey shawl.
5. Check into hotel at college town and while you’re at it, check the urge to provide a helpful last- minute lecture on living with snow. You child is not interested in your experiences with living in snow, or living through New England winters. Your child will definitely lose an appendage to frostbite this winter. Your Baltimore- reared child considers a t- shirt and a hoodie “layering”. Count all of her lovely, freezable bits and silently bid them farewell. Wonder which piece of your perfect, perfect baby will not come home to you in the spring. Resist the urge to weep quietly in the bathroom. Instead, plot out the dense, claustrophobia- inducing sweaters you will make for your child this winter as you knit on your little grey shawl.
6. Spend dinner discussing news, gossip, anything but the future. Talk about goat cheese, and how there is never too much of it. Watch her hands, and think about how much you’ve always loved them. Don’t cry. Don’t even want to cry. Leave your little grey shawl in its bag, and just look at her.
7. Go through the next day in a haze: it’s all so much to do. It’s all just so much, really. Unloading, finding her room, unpacking, watching all of the other families and the ways they do the things which you are doing. Pick up her books from the bookstore. Take the inevitable trip to the store, buy her things. Buy her things to hold her other things, and find yourself looking at these things and wondering how they’ll fit into her new life, her new future. Feel proud, nervous, and amazed. This is real. How did time move so quickly? Your little grey shawl sits in its bag, unattended: there’s just no time for knitting.
8. Have dinner again, early this time. You’ve done all of the things; there’s nothing left to do but eat, so that’s what you’ll do. Find somewhere relatively quiet. This time you’ll talk about real things: home. Friends. Family. The harder things. It’s okay, because you’ll break it up with laughing, but this is definitely a Much More Serious Meal, an actual dinner together. It’ll be a little while before you eat together again. Make the most of it.
9. Head back to her dorm room. You’ve finally got the hang of the place now- you could find her room in a hurry if you needed, which makes you feel safe, and also silly, because you’ll never need to find her room in any rush. Keeping this piece of knowledge tucked in your back pocket- mapping out the routes to where she will be- settles you somehow. You can feel yourself drawing an invisible map in your mind, in your heart. Knit on your little grey shawl, and think about the ties that bind without restricting.
10. Then it will be there: the goodbye. It isn’t as awful as you thought it would be. You find that you don’t want to cry: it really is just a goodbye, after all. And for all your fear, all the dread and worry and horrible crushing doubts, it really is all right. She will be all right. You as a family will be all right. And even if you’re like me, and you don’t have any frame of reference for this moment, if in your experience when a child leaves home they never really speak to their parents again and you don’t know how to do this thing and it causes you horrible anxiety because you really don’t know what comes next and you’re really just doing this all on faith it turns out that in the now, in the here and the this and the right then, it really is okay. It’s okay. She’s going to be just fine. The moment is there, and you hug, and you take a few pictures and you tell her you love her and you leave her there in the room, her room, to get on with her new adventure, and that is exciting stuff. Go back to your hotel room and sit in wonder. This is real life, and it really happened. Sit with your shock and knit on your little grey shawl.
11. Life goes on. And it’s weird for a while: everything is different, quieter, a little emptier. There will be a hole where she was, and you can’t miss it. You don’t know exactly what to do with yourself for a while. Revert to your twentysomething self for a time: stop wearing pants in the evenings, stay up late, have kettle corn and ice cream for dinner. Mourn the loss of being a live- in parent. It’s okay to be a little sad. Spend evenings devouring The Twilight Zone and knit mindlessly, aimlessly on your little grey shawl.
12. Start looking forward to whatever it is that comes next. Begin to train your dogs new tricks. Go out a bit more. Text your kid. Set whole new routines, decide you hate them, start different ones. Play with it. Your daughter is on a bright new adventure, and will come home with stories. Decide that she won’t be the only one. Knit on your little grey shawl until you’re almost out yarn, and wonder what comes next.