Life With(out) Ladybug: Moving her into the college dorm

By Shannon Magsam, Ladybug’s mama

It’s been a little over a week since my husband and I moved our one and only into her dorm room.

Even though she’s in college nearby, I’m trying to give her the space she needs to taste the sweet nectar of freedom.

Since she’s so close, I’ve had to put my car keys and the cell phone down a few times, but I’ve shown discipline. You’d be proud. I’ve also shown some mopiness. Ask my husband. Of course, he might use other words. Maybe words like snippy, ill-humored or a whole slew of other Mad Libs adjectives “describing a mother just deserted by her only offspring without so much as a pity glance back.”

I told a friend this week that I feel “tilted.” Last night on my podcast walk it hit me why: it’s the same way you’d feel if someone kicked one of the legs off your three-legged stool.

We’ve been the three MagsAmigos for 18 years. It’s hard to stay upright while sitting on a two-legged stool.

I miss our spirited talks about nerd culture, pop culture and society’s woes. I miss her asking me to make her favorite dinner. I miss knowing where she is, that she’s safe and happy, especially at bedtime.

The first night she stayed in the dorm, I texted Gwen a list of things making me sad. Things like the leftover piece of corn at dinner, my girl not asking me to watch a funny (subjective though it may be) YouTube video and nobody to fight over the “good” ice cream spoon with.

When I’m in my home office in the mornings, a time she’d typically still be asleep and I wouldn’t see her face anyway, my heart aches knowing her room is empty.

Lately, I’m too restless to read a good book at night before bed. Instead, I obsessively read posts and comments on the Facebook page for parents of kids who attend my daughter’s college. I feel a kinship with others cycling through the same emotions and issues.

It’s like a support group. AA for empty nesters.

I’ve guarded against this for years. I read all the books about letting kids go a little at a time, building up their courage and independence over the long parenting haul leading up to adulthood.

When Ladybug was little, I read a book about raising only children and the author, the mom of an older only, advised treating your kid as though (s)he was one of four. That way, she said, you won’t (s)mother them too much.

I’ve always worked hard to prioritize my marriage, not placing the kid over her dad. I’m dedicated to my work. I’ve always tried to help others and take time for myself.  Now did that always work, not putting her at the center of my attention? What “good” mom would say no? And I have loved being her mom for the past 18 years.

It’s easy to imagine a far-off future where your kid leaves the nest, but it’s not as easy to endure it.

For her sake, endure it I must. And I know it will get easier. It’s already easier, especially since she’s loving college life and occasionally meets me out for ice cream. I’m proud of how she’s embracing her independence and her art classes.

I’m left feeling grateful I didn’t squander the *bonus* time the pandemic gave us the past four months. We stayed home together, the three-legged stool feeling comfy and content. Being quarantined together for so long might have it a little harder to let go, though. And I have to tamp down those scary middle-of-the-night thoughts about her ending up in a dorm of doom, surrounded by COVID cases.

For now, I’ll rely on my research skills. Arming myself with knowledge is one way I alleviate the anxiety I can feel about handling new things like going through a scary diagnosis or being courageous in the face of a big change.

I’ll read about best health practices, keep watch on the positives cases and pray. I pray a LOT. I want my girl to be able to stay at the dorm, enjoying her first year of college (and safe, please God).

Her dad and I will be ok. The two legs she left behind are strong. We’ll just have to figure out how to move around the house without her, not being amused (or aggravated) by her on a daily basis. We’ll just have to embrace the hours.

Tonight, I’m wearing my happy face. She’s home for a dinner and I’ve made her favorite foods, done her laundry and written encouraging words on a pineapple-embossed card.

The pineapple has become our family’s symbol over the years.

I’ll slip the card into the bag of groceries I bought her so she can find it when she’s putting food away in her tiny, dorm-sized refrigerator.

I might need to put a pineapple card up on my house-sized refrigerator while I’m at it.

It can be my reminder to stand tall and stay sweet, especially on those days I’m feeling wobbly.