I took my oldest, Gretchen, back to Louisville this week so she could begin what will be her senior year in college. For me, the day was ripe with nostalgia. The summer heat and humidity, and the empty, quiet campus, combined to transport me back to my move-in days at Mizzou and to send me swimming in a pool of reflection.
As we loaded our arms full of Gretchen’s belongings and walked from our cars to her dorm room and back, I commented to her about how I loved returning to campus when it was all but deserted. There was something fun and magical and empowering and exclusive about being there ahead of the whole student body. It was a feeling of new beginnings and possibilities. Something that made me feel like an insider.
What I remembered but didn’t share was that there was also something lonely about it — a sense of longing or loss. Of something ending or something that never actually took place.
Maybe that’s why I always have this feeling of anxiety or regret at the end of each summer. Each year, I would return to college with a feeling that another season had passed and I hadn’t filled that hole in my heart; didn’t find that peace; didn’t mend/end the turmoil with my parents.
As I helped Gretchen move in, I felt happy and sad at the same time. I was truly excited that she is joining the residential life staff at Bellarmine. I see this as a perfect fit for her and I hope I’m right. I hope it’s not just me projecting onto her what was a perfect fit for me. My job as an RA was one of the highlights of my college career. The experiences, training, responsibility and relationships were transforming. It’s where I met my best friends.
Gretchen, however, doesn’t see returning to her college campus each year as a sanity-saving escape from a discontented home life. That fact warms my heart. Unlike the younger me, she doesn’t come home for the summer with the hopes of mending familial relationships or with nervousness about how she will at least sustain them in a peaceable way. Instead, she returns to us with the happy anticipation of spending time with people she enjoys and loves.
Somehow, along with a full time job, an LSAT prep course, six hours of college credit hours and a serious boyfriend, my 20-year-old daughter gave plenty of her time to us this summer. We had a few shopping trips, several movies, some meals at Panera and Qdoba, lots of dinners around our kitchen table, a float trip, a week in Mexico, a few trips for ice cream, several nights in our family room watching Real Housewives and the new Unreal show, and a couple of workouts together.
It is not unusual for me to end the summer with some regret — regret for the things I didn’t get done or accomplish. Despite all the outings and fun activities I participate in with my kids, I still regret the time I didn’t spend at the pool or the zoo or the park or the City Museum.
I often experience a sense of sadness bordering on depression as summer vacation ends and the school year starts. I have to make a concerted effort to remind myself of the good things that September, and then October, November and December, bring to our lives — new friends, fall clothes (boots, yes, my beloved boots) and the excitement of the holiday season.
That sadness is approaching, and that sense of regret is upon me like an old, worn-out blanket. I’ve found myself waking the last few nights, mentally racing through the list of things I still want to cram into the calendar before the school buses begin running their routes again. I feel summer’s end pressing in on me as it always does, but this year it’s a little better.
Having that time with my daughter — taking her back to school — I think that’s what relieved some of my regret. I’m sorry to see her go and we both wish she didn’t’ have to return to school so early in August, but as we unpacked her belongings and began the process of setting up her dorm room, I felt contentment.
Watching her, I understand that she doesn’t share my sense of things unaccomplished. She said she had a good summer. She’s just as melancholy about summer coming to a close, but it’s because she enjoyed herself and she will miss her loved ones — not because she is living with a feeling of not having done enough, achieved enough, been enough.
That’s the crux of the matter, really. Being enough. Letting the summer be enough. Letting the moment be enough. Believing that I am enough of a mom, wife, friend, sister, writer. Enough of a daughter of the King, who tells me that His Grace is enough.
On my way home, I texted my daughter to tell her how much she means to me. My text was long and wordy because that’s what I do. Her reply: “I love you so much.”
That was definitely enough.