I took a few days to drive about nine hours away. It wasn’t a trip that was supposed to be for fun. it just wasn’t. It was meant to be stressful, emotional, sad, hopeful, encouraging and depressing all at the same time.
I was determined it wouldn’t be so, though.
This was the trip to take my oldest daughter, Abbi, to college. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t missing her or that I didn’t think things would be hard without her – not physically but emotionally.
People make the mistake sometimes of saying that I’d have to deal with so much more with Abbi not in the house. I’ll be the first to admit that she drove the kids around a lot. She took Noah to therapy every Friday. She picked the kids up from the Extended Day Program at school every day. But a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that Abbi became their surrogate Mom. She didn’t. The first thing I wanted after Andrea, my wife of 18 years, passed away was for Abbi to be a teenager. Sure, she had to grow up insanely fast, but I was determined she’d have more of a childhood than others I’d known who had to take over the household duties when their mother passed away.
So we drove. About a quarter of the way we stopped in Redding, California. There they have a giant walking bridge that is, literally, a sundial. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, architect and designer of some of the most beautiful bridges in the world, the bridge has become a tourist attraction for the city.
We spent about an hour there, getting a burger so that Abbi could have InNOut burger before leaving the state of California.
We arrived at our destination about 1 in the morning on move-in day. It was exhausting, but we’d spent the time wandering around and having fun and it was far more of an adventure than it was a sad and depressing trip.
I pulled up and the college had the traffic managed. They had students that moved all the stuff out of our car into Abbi’s dorm room. They truly made it easy on us. I was a bit dismayed as I looked around me and noticed that there were parents who had shown up with minivans filled to the brim along with a U-Haul attached completely full as well. I looked to our Honda and noticed that we’d filled up the back of the Pilot with Abbi’s stuff . . . an inordinate number of shoes . . . (he typed just to get the ire of his daughter who says there really aren’t that many shoes) and the necessities. Still, there was car after car and trailer after trailer and all I could think was . . . you know you have to move all that stuff back to your home when it’s all said and done, right?
We moved Abbi into the dorms, helped her to unload a bunch of the stuff and then went off to let her do some of the school work and get acclimated.
Hannah, Noah and Sam had all told me how much they’re going to miss their sister. Sure, they told Abbi, too, but not to the degree they’d let on to me. Sam wanted to move to Salem so we could be closer to her. Noah just got quiet . . . which has been his normal stance in the last couple years after losing his Mom. It wasn’t until Friday that Abbi let on that she’s really nervous, too. Nervous because she’s not just living on her own for the first time . . . which she is . . . but nervous because she’s living on her own, in a room with strangers each night, in a new town, in a new setting, surrounded by people not too much like her in some instances, and having to audition for a play and do a term paper . . . all in the same weekend. It’s a lot to overcome any one of those things. She has all of them at once. I went to college in driving distance of home for a weekend. I had the advantage of going there if I got homesick. As the time approached for us to leave her it was finally setting in: Dad’s going.
“You’re not as emotional as the other parents, I’ve noticed” Abbi informed me. “Don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciate that!”
I wasn’t, either. There were parents literally sobbing at the fact they were relinquishing their kid to the big, wide world. I wasn’t. I was sad, a little maudlin, perhaps biting at the kids a little more here and there. Still, I noticed the emotional turmoil the kids whose parents were breaking down felt. I also noticed that Hannah, Noah and Sam had already gotten sad and quiet over her leaving. The last thing she needed was me adding to that. Plus…I’m honestly excited for her. She’s about to embark an amazing journey and go do something she’s totally thrilled to do. That’s worth a ton.
We did more . . . I took the kids to the state fair in Oregon. We rode the Ferris Wheel. Hannah and Sam went on a giant swing that took you in circles. We had funnel cakes. The kids won prizes. It was totally fun, totally different, and just a big adventure. I didn’t want them or Abbi to look at this weekend as a sad occasion. I wanted them to look at it as a great memory. I think, after all this they do.
I am sad, sure, and tonight, as I write, the house is too quiet and the downstairs too empty…but the routine hasn’t changed. I do the same amount of work I did before she left. I watch Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” and realize as I’m about to comment on how stupid it is they act like Network News has reporters who shoot their own stories and realize that Abbi isn’t there to tell any more. I also realize…I can text her and have her watch it online so we can have the same conversation.
I preach and pound into the ground the statement that life is an adventure. I have to practice what I preached. You know what? I think I have.