Separation Anxiety

Having just sent our youngest off to college, I’m struck by how different the experience is. Granted, this is a daughter following two sons, and she’s going to the U.S. Air Force Academy rather than a civilian university, so things are bound to be different.

I guess anxious is the best word for how I feel. I worry about her in a way I never did about her brothers. It’s not a question of ability or maturity—she’s better prepared for college, and even the military life, in ways her brothers—or me, for that matter—were not. Having gone through the Air Force Academy myself, I know what she’s in for. It’s a known quantity. On Day X, she will be doing Y, and probably feeling Z.

The Academy now has a wonderful resource for parents that documents the new cadets’ daily schedule and posts pictures of their activities. It’s fun, in a sort of Where’s Waldo fashion, to sort through the hundreds of photos looking for my daughter, and finding many more than I expected. It can become a little stalkerish, but wondering what she’s up to and how she’s holding up are less of a concern. I can see her facial expressions, and observe how she’s carrying herself, and note whether she’s interacting with her classmates. I can confirm she’s eating, staying hydrated, and receiving our letters. There’s not much left to worry about, really.

And yet…

It’s like I’m standing behind her as she begins to pedal her two-wheeler down the sidewalk. I know she’s going to wobble a little, maybe even fall and pick up a few cuts and bruises. It’ll hurt. I know how it was for me, and those memories are vivid. In the same way, every day I mentally retrace my steps through basic training, remembering what it was like, feeling the pain and exhaustion all over again.

It’s not all bad. There was a lot of excitement, adventure, and exhilaration at the wonder of finding myself doing things I never thought possible, testing myself in ways I’d never before imagined. It was tough, but it was good, and I came through it stronger and more confident than when I began.

But she’s got a long way to go yet before she emerges from that dark, scary tunnel into the sunshine beyond. I want her to know what that feels like, and I want to see her face when it happens.

Until then, I’ll watch, and I’ll pray, and I’ll worry…just a little.

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