Friday, May 12, 2006

My last letter to my college daughter

Sorry I have been too busy to post lately. One daughter graduates from college this weekend, another from high school in 3 weeks. I am up to my eyeballs in sending out announcements, planning a party for the girls, everyday life, and weeping at every twist and turn (which, by the way, takes a lot of energy). Then it hit me yesterday. I don't have to come up with a unique post. I can post my last letter to my daughter during her last week of being an undergrad. So here it is. Get out the hankie...

May 8, 2006

Dear daughter,

I guess this is my last letter to you as an undergrad. I cannot believe four years have gone by so quickly. Four years ago we were trying to figure out how to get to your high school graduation the back way to avoid the crowded main entrance to the park, and now we’re doing that again with your little sister. And getting ready for your 2 graduations (honors and College of Education).

Two graduations? Whoda thunk? I never heard of such a goofy thing. But you know I would crawl on my hands and knees over hot coals to get to your graduation ceremonies no matter how many of them there are. Of course, parking close to the venue and having no sun, no rain, and no crowds would be bitchin’. But that ain’t gonna happen, is it? So a nice compromise of horrible parking, unpredictable weather, no seating (bring lawnchairs!), and no hot coals will have to do. Whether you can see us or not, please know that your parents will be somewhere in the crowd hootin’ and hollerin’ at the mention of your name. Or perhaps a Kirkwood Clap will do? I will do my best not to embarrass you, but I can’t make any promises. (My life’s motto)

Can you remember how much you didn’t want to “end up” at Mizzou? (Remember when I told you that the only word I wanted to hear after “ended up” was PRISON?) I’m not saying it’s the perfect school, but I do believe you made the most of it. I hope like hell that any child you have gives you an immense amount of trouble while searching for a college to attend. Only then will you appreciate what we went through during your senior year of high school. Like it or not, Mizzou was where you “ended up,” and it has served you well, whether you admit it or not. Personally, I think you did just fine with a state school. But it wasn’t until we attended Summer Welcome that you saw the possibilities… the gorgeous guys that would be on campus when you arrived in the fall. The look on your face at the eye candy really swung you over to the Mizzou side. From that point, we did not have too much trouble convincing you to pack up and head to where you “ended up.” Thank you for cooperating.

I can still remember the day we moved you into your dorm (excuse me, residence hall). We woke up that Sunday morning to the crash of thunder and lightning, the first rain in many weeks. My promise that it would rain on your first day of college was coming true. One of my favorite memories was figuring out that your room was very close to the back staircase instead of the elevator by the front entrance and parking in the back for convenience while your father traipsed up and down the steps with your boxes, bins, and supplies. Remember sitting on your dorm bed and looking out the door at the service elevator that he could have been using the whole time? Did we ever let your dad in on that secret? Shhhh, I’ll never tell. And may I say for the record, that I really thought that you signed up for RUSH just to get into the dorm early and so we didn’t have to move you on your sister’s first day of high school. How naïve was I? I never ever ever dreamed that you would actually enjoy RUSH (as much as one can enjoy seeing others rejected) and pledge a sorority. In a family history of English, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish, there is not one ounce of Greek blood and so this came as a shock. I will never forget the Thursday you called to announce that you were pledging Chi Omega. After dropping you off at the dorm 4 days earlier without a tear, the tears began to flow when I heard you tell me this news. Where did I go wrong? What had I done to deserve this? I wept at the thought that you had betrayed your mother, turned your back on your liberal roots, denied your GDI heritage. It was difficult to listen to your thinking, but you eventually calmed me down by telling me 2 things. First, officers were given a discount, and you just planned to be an officer (and you were). And second, there were so many Republicans in Greek Town that you vowed to shake things up with your Democrat liberalism. I choked back the sobs and listened to your rationale, taking deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth, just like I did when I was in labor with you. Much the same way!

That weekend your aunt took me out to go shopping to sweep away the “mother of a sorority girl” blues. We bought a black and gold outfit for future Mizzou visits, not necessarily as a Chi O Mom, but for games and shopping and such. I knew I would never fit in, never be one of them. I wasn’t skinny enough, not cute enough, not rich enough, not conservative enough. Every time I visited you in the dorm and saw that owl on your door, I shuddered, but I took baby steps in accepting that this was what you wanted. In through the nose, out through the mouth. A few weeks into your first semester, and you called home to tell me you had changed majors. Do you remember that phone call? You had dropped your international political science class and come to the realization that being a poli sci major may require a lot of reading. Keeping up with that class was keeping you from keeping up with all your other classes and so you cut your losses. (Do you remember telling us that you thought taking the LSAT’s would require a lot of reading, and we sort of smiled and nodded and hoped you’d figure out that being a poli sci major would require a lot of reading before that.) After spending several classes taking over for Kenneth Wu, the unintelligible Chinese algebra teacher, you decided you’d make a kickass math teacher. Do you remember calling me to tell me that Chinese people do not say their “v’s”? And that he “diwided” his “nominator” by the “dominator.” Sounded good to me, but apparently, that’s not how you say it. Remember when he told the class, “I going to learn alphabet one day,” and you replied, “How many letters do you need to know, Kenneth? A, b, c and x, y, z.” I knew then that God had a good sense of humor when She had an English major for a mom give birth to a math teacher. I can remember standing in the kitchen and thinking, “You will always have a job.” And on top of it, my grandparents, not to mention my sisters, would be so proud of you. I could forgive the math part. I could even learn to forgive the sorority part. (Aand I don't want comments from people who think I'm horrible for coming down on Greeks. It was just totally foreign to me, and I learned to adjust.)

A parents’ weekend here, a football game there, and the first semester was soon over. Your grades, as expected, were stellar, and I was so proud of your perseverance, your brilliance, your ability to have fun, work hard, and come out a winner, a combination I never achieved in college. I was loving Mizzou with you more than I ever had in my 3 ½ years on campus. I will admit that I was living vicariously and having a ball. February brought your initiation and secret handshakes, passwords, winks, and you told me I would never be your “sister.” But I would always be your mother. I even learned to shut my mouth, a new skill for me to learn in my old age. By now, you were probably so sick of hearing “When I was here” stories, but I kept telling them to you anyway. Mizzou was a totally different place for you than it was for me. Part of that was the 30 years difference and part of that was what you put into the school. You joined, you organized, you contributed, you partied. There was not a time I saw you on campus where tons of people said hello, waved, hugged you. This was definitely not the Mizzou I attended.

No, I won’t go semester by semester, year by year and reminisce. I remember your naked greeting you, Homecoming house decs (for your parents first time), Jell-O shots, boxed wine, spring break in Chicago to see "Rent" (or was that Bloomington), Grinders, skipping out on “Chi O mom” activities to watch School of Rock, (avoiding) fake purse parties, shopping, shopping in downtown Columbia in the rain, a smoky piano bar, shopping, picking out our favorite candy at The Candy Factory, pointing to the Episcopal Church every time we passed it just in case you were wondering, driving to Columbia in the snow for your birthday, and friends of yours thinking I was your sister. Oh, woops, my fantasy, not yours! You called me practically every night not because you needed to but because you wanted to. I wrote lengthy, newsy letters until you told me to stop it. You weren’t reading them anyway. I will admit I was hurt, at first, but I had to adjust my needs to fit your life. Yes, I am hoping your little sister loves me more and allows me to write her lengthy newsy letters. After your first summer at home, you have enjoyed summers in Maine and even one quick course on a Greek cruise ship. How did you finagle that? We had occasional fights, but, for the most part, grew closer and closer as each year drifted into the next. Where you were once my daughter you are now my best friend. There cannot possibly be a luckier mother on this earth.

So here we are, days away from your graduation. This day will be so special… until your next graduation and your next graduation… until you are crowned Queen of the Monkey People. And out in that audience, your mom and dad will always be there, hootin’ and hollerin’ but keeping the Piggley Wiggley bags at home. I know your life has been busy with student teaching and getting ready for graduation, but it’s been a little hectic over here getting ready to come see you graduate while getting your sister ready for her senior prom we have to miss this weekend. I am so excited that you have a job and won't be living in my basement (although, at times, I wish you were moving home, but I would never tell you that).

I hope you know that sometimes my chest aches with love and pride for you that I think it will explode. In all my 39 years my mother was alive in my lifetime, she never once told me she was proud of me. I do not doubt that she was (well, except for the time I was drunk at my high school graduation or when I announced to my senior class that I was getting my tubes tied), but she never uttered the words. I don’t think I can say them enough. Children are 20 percent of our population, but 100 percent of the future. I know that, because of you, our country's future is in good hands. I leave you with one of my favorite “teacher” quotes. It hangs in your aunt’s classroom, and even though you refer to some students as asswipes (your term of endearment), I know you are becoming a member of a most honorable profession. I leave you with one of my favorite teacher quotes. This is from Pat Conroy’s novel The Prince of Tides. In this passage, the character Tom, a teacher, is asked why he chose to “sell himself short” when he was so talented and could have done anything with his life. Tom replies, “There's no word in the language that I revere more than ‘teacher.’ None. My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I've honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher.”

All my love,

Your mom (the wind beneath your wings)


5 Comments:

At 11:20 AM, Blogger greekchickie said...

Beautiful...

M~

 
At 10:34 PM, Blogger Angela said...

Perfection.

 
At 11:17 AM, Blogger Pam said...

Such a stunning thing to give to your daughter. I'm sure she will treasure it for ever.

My mom is my best friend as well. I am the lucky one.

Pam

 
At 7:40 PM, Blogger Leesa said...

Damn...nice. Will you be my mom?? You're old enough, right?? Bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
I kid, I kid.

 
At 7:52 PM, Blogger Shephard said...

beautiful letter, and a wonderful quote too.

~S

 

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