Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Where did the time go?

For all you parents dropping off your children (of all ages) at school this week...  an excerpt from More Work Than a Puppy (or what your mother never told you about procreation).  I was told by the mother of a university-aged daughter that I'd missed an important demographic.  I added this particular monologue in 2005 with a few revisions this past spring.  Keep a tissue handy...

I’m dropping her off at university today.  And as we’re driving there I hope that I haven’t screwed up.  Have I given her the right values?  Will she make the right choices?  Will she ever need me the way she did before this day?
Home movie flashbacks fill my head.  She was so accident prone.  At two, she was riding one of those springy horses in the playground.  Giggling and smiling – until her hands slipped and her chin went down on the handle and I’m looking at her chin bone.  My two year old’s chin bone is visible, and I’ve gone to that calm maternal place where I have to be in control and make sure that she doesn’t panic—but her chin bone is showing—but I still smile and tell her everything will be okay... And as her arms encircle my neck, she doesn’t even realize that she’s bleeding. 
Then she’s 4, playing with her friend on the concrete stoop across the street.  She’s wearing a red nylon jacket with a hood, you know the ones - that have that soft white flannel inside?  She’s swinging from her knees on the metal railing and in slow motion I see her fall - on her head - on the concrete.  In the 5 seconds that it takes me to reach the other side of the street, the white flannel of the inside of her hood has turned literally blood red.  The doctor says that it it’s a cut no bigger than the tip of her baby finger.  But to me, at that moment, her brains were probably seeping out into the hood.  So I tie the strings tight around her chin to make sure that no brains fall out.
At 11 she falls through our glass table in the rec. room.  (She’s trying to jump over it after using the couch as a trampoline.)  I hear this crash from the basement and fly down the stairs even before I hear the crying. She’s lying there in the middle of transparent shrapnel – her left leg bloody from the knee down.    And as she reaches for me, she’s saying “Mummy – Mummy, I broke the table.  I’m sorry.”  She hadn’t called me Mummy since she was 6.
I look at the young woman she is now.  She’s 18.  So self-assured… and right about absolutely everything.  Everything’s black and white for her – there are no Fifty Shades of Grey for her.
Have I told her everything she needs to face the world?  


She looks at me.  

“I mean, don’t do the bad drugs.  Organic is okay. Stick to organic... Don’t do acid! Oh God, do they even DO acid now?  Is it Ecstasy now?  DON'T DO THAT!! ...  Pot’s fine – it’s great with sex... OH!! USE CONDOMS! – I know you’re on the pill, but use condoms – PROMISE ME YOU'LL USE CONDOMS!  ... And act crazy on the bus if you’re riding late at night.  If you act crazy on the bus, people will stay away.” 
We pull up at her dorm.  She had the option to go to Trent, but she wanted Queens.  What the hell has Queens got that Trent doesn’t?  Besides all the good stuff?  The reputation stuff.  Everyone knows that a reputation can be totally wrong.  Reputations are like rumors.  Who started this one? Queens isn’t so great.  It’s 2 hours and 8 minutes away according to the Google Maps.  What if something happens to her?  It’ll take me 2 hours and 8 minutes to get to her!! 
If she had gone to Trent, she could have lived at home.  She’d be getting free food with me.  I’d make sure that she was eating balanced meals.   I would do her laundry.  I’d even fold it and everything!  She’s going to be living in a dorm.  With other kids, and I don’t know these kids.  These kids will be a bad influence.  They’ll lead her into stuff.  Bad stuff.  If she stays at a dorm, her life will go to hell.  She’ll hang out with the wrong crowd.  What if they turn out to be small-minded and prejudiced?  We always took her into Toronto once a month so that she could see that there was more to life than small-town white-bread people.  We had dinner in Little India, we went to Chinatown.  She knew that there were different colours of skin.  Does Kingston have a Chinatown?  Or is it going to be one Chinese restaurant that serves bad fried rice?
I’m trying so hard to be the cool Mom who can let her go and trust that she’ll make the right choices.  I wonder if she knows I’m faking it.  I’ve been crying myself to sleep for the last six nights. 
God, what am I thinking?  She’s not dumb.  She’s never been prone to peer pressure.  What, she’s going to stop using her brain now?  Now that she’s been accepted to Queens with a 93 average?  If I were a sane, rational mother I would know that she’s going to be fine.  I would know that.  But she’s my baby.  I breastfed her and snuggled her and scared away the dragons from under her bed. 
How did 18 years go by so quickly?  In my head she’s still 5 years old, ringing the doorbell, wearing her little yellow duck boots - completely covered in mud - and she’s holding a bouquet of dandelions that she picked especially for me. 
I feel like I’m leaving that 5 year old on the curb with her suitcase in hand – not this woman who is ready to start her own life.  She’s following her own yellow brick road, and I’m Glinda the Good Witch... just pointing her in the right direction.  And she’ll be okay.  She smiles as she waves to me.  I start to drive before I cry.  As I’m pulling away, she runs up to my window and knocks on the glass.  I roll it down and she gives me a great big, wet, sloppy kiss.  And then she says:  “Don’t worry Mom, I’ve got my ruby slippers.”
© Heather Jopling 2005, 2013


  1. I never felt really "grown up", even "old", until I took my own daughter to her university dorm the first time. It was only the day before that I had moved in in my first year.