Dreams Reimagined

A single mother contends with saying goodbye to her college-bound child.

My marriage was spent dreaming of a baby—my perfect, nuclear family. I painted a buttery-yellow nursery, added crystal pulls to my childhood dresser, stenciled the rocking chair where I would breast-feed my child. If you build it, she will come … She didn’t.
After seven years of infertility treatments, I got pregnant.
Then came nine months of misery. Not the fairy tale “let’s do yoga and photo shoots with my magnificent belly” pregnancy. Instead, I got three trimesters of rampant vomiting; wore the same cheap dress every day; and showered maybe twice.
When overly ripe with child, despondent and wretched, my mother told me, “I know you want her out now, but in three months you’ll want to shove her back in.”
Mom was right: My fantasy baby was born with colic; my marriage fell apart, as did my life. 
Three became two and my dreams shifted to new ones. Now I imagined all the things we would do together; what I would become as a mother, a woman, a writer—my daughter by my side.  
The next year, I dipped my toe back into the dating pool. Nine months later my son arrived. (It happens.) Two again became three—thousands of miles, stratospheres from the life I’d envisioned.
My daughter excelled in school, music, and life in general. Still, at home it felt like her colic lasted well into her 16th year. And since I could not “shove her back in,” I began to quietly entertain the idea of her leaving for college. 
But I blinked, she turned 18, and somewhere along the way we’d become friends. We shopped, talked about boys, got mani-pedis. Then POOF! She was accepted to USC. And so began the countdown … 
I started looking backwards, at all the things we hadn’t done: road trips, Ireland, Africa. I never French-braided her hair, made chocolate chip pancakes, pierced her ears.
I never met Mr. Right. She never saw me in love, wouldn’t be the flower girl at my wedding. She deserved better. 
But does life ever turn out the way we envision in 10-year-old dreams? My emotions are fractured. I try to rein in scattered merry-go-round ponies, search for hidden answers in sock drawers. If college is a good thing, why do I feel so bad?  
Suddenly, every moment is precious. I hold on tight. And when she’s cranky, I endure because the stomping feet will leave a ghostly silence in a few short weeks. Three will become two … then eventually one. I resist the urge to buy a cat—or seven. 
I shift my focus to what we did do: our non-nuclear life—biking in Paris, cooking classes in Barcelona, watching a Rolling Stones concert from the rooftop of our hotel in Rome.
We made magic.

I feel a tingly excitement for my daughter and all she will become. I worry about what can go wrong and long for what can go right. And when I drop her off at the collegiate city that holds the next phase of her magnificent life, I will drive away, lumpy throat, like yesterday’s first day of kindergarten. 
Still, I will always be her mother. And like I endured childbirth, I will endure this. It might require corpulent Netflix viewing, extra martinis, and yes—God forbid—a cat.  
Because no matter how hard it hurt to push that baby out, this will hurt more.
But I will survive.  
Like my mom did.  
And her mother before.
Because my mom says I will.
And Mom is always right.

Kathleen Laccinole is a freelance writer and regular contributor to ESME.com. She resides in Sherman Oaks with her son—and so far—no cat.