On August 21, we dropped our firstborn child off at college. Our college, the one David and I both attended. We drove into the lot we’d parked in a thousand times before. We walked her, our arms laden with her things, into the same dorm building I’d been in Freshman year. And then nostalgia really hit when we stopped at MY VERY DORM ROOM and her roommate welcomed us in.

Yep. MY ROOM. My daughter is in my same room! I hadn’t remembered the number, but there was no mistaking the door. Or the dark ink stain on the tile I failed at scrubbing off. Or the view from the window. (If only I’d carved my name into a board in the closet or hidden something behind some molding! What was I thinking?? LOL)

We got her situated, we attended the family reception, we chatted with the dean (who was a professor while we were there) and the assistant dean (who was our classmate!) and anyone else we recognized. Then we left her to settle in and we drove home and…here we are. Doing what parents have been doing for so long. Letting our baby spread her wings, in a place we know and love.

Being me, I find myself pondering when and why different realizations hit. For instance, do you know the moments I miss her most? It’s not at bedtime when she’s not there for family prayers–I can brace myself for that. It’s not in the morning when I no longer have to poke my head in to wake her up–I forgot to do that half the time anyway, when I was caught up in my own work.

It’s when I reach for a fork and, from habit, pass over her favorite one.

See, we have some mismatched silverwear, some of which was inherited from the grandfather whose house we now live in. When we moved in here, each of my kids picked a favorite fork. They were 5 and 8 when they did this. Xoe liked the one with the little stars on it. Rowyn liked the one with the tightly-clustered flowers that give the handle a black tone.

Over the last ten years, I trained myself to save those forks for each of them. It’s a silly little thing, but if I pull out the star or flower fork, I automatically put it back unless I’m handing it to them.

I still find myself putting that star fork back in the slot, even though Xoe’s not here to claim it later. And that’s when it hits. My girl isn’t here daily. She’s off on her own adventure.

Being not only her mother but an alum at her school, I want to know every detail–but of course, I rein myself in, LOL. David and I were talking about that last night too. All her life, she’s been hearing our stories of St. John’s. She’s been taught the lessons we learned and shaped by the reality we discovered there. But now it will become her story. Her lessons. Her reality.

On the one hand, that’s weird and even difficult from our perspective. But on the other hand, it’s so beautiful. Because that’s true not just of a college, right? But of life. Of faith.

All we can ever do is teach our kids what we’ve learned. But we can’t make them learn it. We can’t make them believe. We can’t make them put their hands in the Lord’s. We can show them, and we can demonstrate, and we can pray. We can instruct and shape them to an extent. But they still have to take their own steps. They have to embrace it for themselves. They have to decide

I don’t know what Xoe’s story will end up being while she’s at St. John’s. I don’t know the friends she’ll make or the truths that will settle in her heart. I don’t know if maybe she’ll meet someone who makes her heart squeeze like mine still does every time I weave my fingers through her father’s. I don’t know what her favorite thing will be, or what she’ll hate. I don’t even now for sure if she’ll love it or if she’ll decide it’s not for her after all.

What I do know is that life, family, faith…they follow a pattern for each of us. We all have to take those steps. Walk into our own destinies. We have to face our fears and wrestle our anxieties. We have to grab hold of our dreams and let them take us with them in their flight.

I miss my girl. Won’t deny that. And I’ll probably keep passing over that fork for who knows how long. But that’s okay. Because in this new chapter of life, I’m going to love opening my dreams to her in new ways. Listening to her stories of how she walks the same halls and sees things in them I never saw. How she’ll live the same dream but experience it in a whole new way. Just like I’ve been doing every time she shares something she learned about faith or love or truth or family.

In life, it’s never enough for something to be our parents’ or grandparents’, our friends’ or siblings’. For it to matter, we have to make it ours.

And when we do, it changes everything.

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