December 8, 2017
I call the oldest of my three children my “first love.”
When Chloe was born, my heart didn’t merely skip a beat. It found a new syncopation.
Now my “baby” is away at Spelman College, almost 900 miles from my New Jersey home. Her laughter no longer rings through the house. Night after night, I look at her vacant seat at the dinner table. Friends, and even relative strangers, warned me of the devastation.
But it’s been almost four months since I last saw Chloe.
And you know what? I’m good. In fact, I’m better than just good.
I don’t feel like a part of me is missing. On a primal level, part of all my kids are inside me. All the time. My best friend is not gone; my daughter is. The one I was supposed to train up in the way she should go; “go” is the operative word here.
My eyes have shed no tears. I am not depressed, not even a little bit melancholy. No spasms of deep longing when I pass her empty bed, neatly made since she left for college in August. Finally, I understand the grating, coffee mug proverb of modern black women everywhere: “Girl, I am too blessed to be stressed!”
Chloe — the beat of my heart — is stepping into her destiny. And I could not be more proud. Her younger sister and brother — who, admittedly, leave me little time to mourn — have a shining example of achievement.
Of course, thanks to her generation’s texting proclivities, I am — in some ways — closer to Chloe than ever. She went vintage shopping recently, for example, and sent me dressing room pictures of each of the secondhand contenders. Things were sometimes rocky between us when she was in high school, and she didn’t usually want my advice. Now I was flattered to be invited to weigh in, and I duly praised each outfit.
Chloe’s dad and I divorced when she was in high school, leaving her a lot of emotional obstacles to overcome. (It’s cool; my kids are all used to my writing about them.) She took her snarky sense of humor and age-appropriate eye-rolls to new heights. But in her absence, I find myself lauding her for the things she did around the house, including her Martha Stewart-level laundry skills and smack-your-mama mac and cheese dishes.
I would have liked to have her home to make one of those at Thanksgiving, but she wasn’t here. She spent it with my sister and brother in Western New York, in part because she’ll be coming home for winter break tomorrow.
Just as her siblings and I have adjusted to our household without her, she has grown used to her freedom, so I imagine there may be some issues in the weeks that she’s home. We will probably all fall back into our old roles, slightly reshaped. And then in January she will leave again, and we will adjust once more.
To me, the college send-off was not a blues for Chloe. It was a celebration. And no one was partying harder than our ancestors, who missed out on the luxury of rolling up into hallowed institutions with pining parents in their wake.
I never took college for granted. My mama grew up in the Jim Crow South and never gave serious thought to higher education. My dad didn’t even finish high school. So when I stepped across the stage at Northwestern University, glad-handing the robe-wearing strangers who placed the embossed leather folder in my hand, I was entering a world my family had never known. It meant honor. It meant prestige. And it spelled victory.
Privilege takes many forms. I can only assume that the legions of parents who spent this fall up in their feelings over their babies’ departures have led lives very different from my own.
But a part of me simply wonders, “Isn’t this what we as parents want to happen?” There is a natural order to it all. Right? Now I can’t lie. There are moments when I worry about Chloe. But I worried a bit when she started full-day preschool, went to sleep-away camp and, perhaps most terrifying, drove to the mall for the first time. As I did in those times, I talk myself down with faith that angels are with her when I can’t be. In other words — grace.
But unlike in the early days of parenting, I now have lots of reasons to have faith in Chloe herself.
She is a competent young woman. She makes sound decisions, chooses decent friendships and navigates the world with an inner knowingness that has always belied her age.
This is no humble brag. Much of who she is, quite honestly, has little to do with me. Chloe came into the world with a live-out-loud, kick-ass boldness and an innate ability to self-regulate to a certain extent. She inherited the spiritual DNA of her grandmother and the strong black women who preceded her.
That’s why I could’ve almost scripted the parting scene when I dropped her off at college. After several days spent unpacking, shopping and shopping some more — it was that time. We said our “goodbye” in the middle of campus after a beautiful rah-rah program to close out orientation. We hugged tightly, kissed — then looked around the yard.
Snot-nosed grown women were everywhere — practically collapsing in sorrow. Chloe said something like, “These moms are, like, legit-shook.” We giggled a bit.
Then, “See you, Mom.”