I race over the ashen hill surrounding Mount Saint Helens, in a desperate attempt to escape. I have a new cell phone in my hand and a young woman’s shrieking voice is broadcasting out of it. Visitors turn and look as I bolt.
The phone is turned onto “speaker” and I have no idea how it was changed or how to rectify it. I do know the person on the other end is livid and I want to get away from the national park visitor’s center as quickly as I can.
“Sierra ! Stop yelling! You’re on speaker phone and everyone can hear you.”
I knew that when my daughter, Sierra first began college as a freshman, it was going to be hard on us; especially for her mother and her younger brother Bryce, for our trio had been happily home schooling together for years. So we shielded ourselves for our loss, by purchasing airplane flights. We were going to take a trip shortly after we moved her possessions into her dorm room, actually only hours later. We kept it from her until the last minute. She had enough to deal with. But she could not believe her brother and I were vacationing in Oregon and Washington while she was having growing pains in college. This was the first trip where she was not included- a difficult thing to accept. But as her brother said, “Why should my traveling life have to stop or even be limited just because Sierra is in college?”
Sierra had been to a dozen countries before she arrived at this point in her young adult life, and she shared nearly every one with her brother. A family that uses the whole world to learn together creates a special bond. No one in our family ever wants to miss out on an adventure or a new experience. She is resenting the fact that her brother and I were still living large while she was coping with profs, taking tests, writing papers, dealing with living in a tiny dorm room with a stranger. Sierra is experiencing the push/pull of growing up and breaking away. She wanted the phones so we could keep in touch, get ahold of her mother’s attention anytime she needed it and help make the transition.
When it came time to select a college, I made a circle around our home on the map and told Sierra that she had to find a college within a 2 ½ hour radius. I wanted her to have the option of coming home for the weekend, IF she needed the support and sanctuary. The first year of college is extremely challenging, plus, an alarming 70% of students who travel far away from home end up quitting their first year. I also knew Sierra’s tendency to be an over-achiever may need to be monitored. After not having tests as a homeschooler, she may apply considerable pressure on herself and not know when enough studying is enough. I wanted to set her up for success. The deal was, if she made it through the first year in flying colors and was confident, she could go to school in Hawaii if she wanted to.
I heard a story of a friend’s daughter who attended a college too far away for weekend visits. Her boyfriend broke up with her and left her depressed. She let her studies lapse. She considered suicide. She said she was afraid to be alone and asked to come home. She wasted a whole semester of classes and tuition but that was of small concern compared to your child’s life and well-being. My friend said that if he could have just driven there and met her for dinner, looked into his child’s eyes, he would have known how unhappy she was. Over the phone she faked it. This story convinced me how important it is to be able to connect in person, for both of our well-being and health.
Because of the way I raised and educated my children, we spent huge amounts of time together and shared amazing experiences, which is unusual for most teens. As a result, we became extremely close. Leaving this comfortable, safe yet very exciting lifestyle was not something Sierra longed to do.
The weeks leading up to her departure for college were melodramatic. She behaved as if she were going into a cloistered nunnery, where she could not communicate with the outside world, or was going off to war in the Middle East. Her eyes would periodically well with tears and she would look so sullen. She told me she read that a freshman should refrain from coming home so they could make the break. I told her, bullshit. Use your home as a sanctuary, when you need space from a new roommate living in your face, when you need a break from cafeteria food and your mom’s meat loaf comfort food, when you need the privacy of her own room or someone to do your wash so you don’t have to juggle one more thing on your agenda. Or, NOT come home, but to have choices. I smiled at her drama. I knew she would be home and often.
On this road trip, Sierra called to read papers aloud for my editing advice. We had to pull over on the side of the road and sit while she read aloud. She shared every crisis and near crisis with us. This time at Mount Saint Helens, she lost her jump drive, leaving it behind at the tech center when she went to print. It was a sad story but sadder at Temple University, Philadelphia and not quite as sad while trying to hike at Oregon’s Mt. Saint Helens National Park. When the car charger did not work, she told us we MUST get off the interstate and find a Radio Shack type of store and find a replacement.
“Can’t we just say that the phone is broken and turn it off?” her brother asks.
Sierra will find the strength and confidence to forge her own way in the world, and even be a leader. I want to be here for her, but on the same hand, I want her to realize that while she is living her life, we are going to continue with ours too. That is why we are in the Pacific Northwest. Now, it is Bryce’s time. The second child often has to wait awhile to have the spotlight be directed onto them.