December 6, 2022

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First College Visit Felt Like the Beginning of the End of Parenting

4 min read

My daughter is a junior in high school and the morning of our first college visit together felt like the beginning of the end of my parenthood journey, even though it has been years since our lives were deeply intertwined. 

mom and adult daughter
The smile my daughter gave me on the campus tour was something I cherish. (Twenty20)

In sixth grade, she started taking the subway to middle school with a friend, and got a cell phone “for safety,” Afterward, things were never the same. She didn’t need rides to school, Starbucks, or ballet, and just like that, the role I didn’t even know I loved was gone. 

But, on a rainy Columbus Day morning, we drove to Yale together in my old Honda —because it’s only 65 miles away from our house in Queens, so why not start with the best? That morning we stopped at Starbucks for Pink Drinks, sang loudly as the car stereo blasted Taylor Swift, and laughed about the boy she had a crush on in eighth grade. 

Our first college visit to Yale did not go as planned

Except, that’s not the way it happened. 

Instead, we got a late start. I was hung over from a rare night of drinking, and I had my suspicions she was too. I thought about bringing that up. I thought about the parenting mistakes my husband and I had made.

Stopping for coffee would jeopardize our chance of a Q and A with an admissions officer, a spot I had reserved months before. My daughter was cranky; she hadn’t eaten and insisted on stopping regardless. We argued, and both regretted not spending the morning in bed.

But then, as I drove, I told her about my college years, the friends I made and lost, the ones who are still closer to me than family, and how I met them all freshman year. I thought this was why I was looking forward to our road trip; a rare last chance to connect before she was truly gone. 

I realized that my daughter had not heard a word I said

When I asked her what kind of college she wanted to attend, she didn’t respond. I asked again, even louder, and her blue eyes in the rare-view mirror stared at me blankly. 

“Did you say something, mom?” she asked, removing the earbuds. 

That’s when I realized I’d been talking to myself for almost an hour. 

We just made it to the Q & A and found out Yale received 50,015 applications for 2,234 spots last year. Also, this year’s freshman class represents 57 countries and all 50 states. In other words, coming from New York City probably wouldn’t be helpful.

“Why’d you make me come here?” she asked.

Because all I ever wanted for you were the things I couldn’t do, I thought. 

But I didn’t answer.

The other students and parents had notepads and well-prepared questions, so I whispered, “Ask if it’s really like the Gilmore Girls here.” 

And she laughed for the first time that day. 

I realized the tour was not for me

During the tour, I got lost in the majesty of the 300-year-old campus, and it wasn’t until we got to one of the residential colleges and found out each has its own late-night snack bar that I remembered the tour was not for me. 

So, I stepped back to give one of the high-school students a better view. 

The college senior who led the tour was the most poised twenty-something I’d ever met. As she spoke, I looked around at the driven young adults rushing to the library, music conservatory, and sports fields and wondered who my ballet-dancing, Gray’s Anatomy-loving, TikTok-obsessed daughter would become.

When we got to the rare book library, it began to storm. I was annoyed with myself for leaving the umbrellas in the car and was about to suggest we leave. But when I looked over at her sopping-wet hair and rain-streaked face, my teenager was laughing with childlike joy I hadn’t seen for years. 

On our tour, we learned about one of the school’s traditions

Theodore Dwight Woolsey statue on Yale’s Old Campus. (Theodore Dwight Theodore Dwight Woolsey statue on Yale’s Old Campus. (Carol Highsmith)

The rain continued as we reached the 125-year-old statue of former Yale President Theodore Dwight Woolsey. The guide explained how Woolsey would kick the boat at Yale regattas with his left foot, setting off a tradition of rubbing the statue’s toe for luck. 

Under umbrellas, the other parents and teens crowded around the statue for their chance to touch Woolsey’s toe. Shivering and wet without an umbrella, I turned to leave, thinking my daughter would follow. 

Instead, she joined the crowd reaching out for the gleaming bronze, then looked back at me and smiled.

It’s a smile I’ll remember when she is away at college, and I miss her terribly because it meant thank you for letting go.  

More Great Reading:

College Tour: Why Parents Should Be Seen and Not Heard

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