Great Expectations

Several years ago, my daughter, Danielle, asked me if I’d be upset if she got a “code” violation at her school (the rough equivalent of a “detention”). I told her that I would but that, on the other hand, I’d also be concerned if she went through 13 years of schooling without ever getting one.

My point to her was that pushing limits and getting in trouble is behavior that is expected of teenagers and that, while I would be unhappy at one level, at another level I’d be more understanding.

A few years later, I had another discussion with her regarding the wisdom or folly of high school romances.  She commented out that they were pointless since everyone would head off to college and end their relationships. She thought that the short-term value was not worth the heartache and drama that would inevitably result. I countered that getting your heart broken, like getting in trouble, is also part of the teenage experience and that by not allowing it to happen that she was missing out on valuable experiences that would be more painful to suffer through later.

I further counseled her that, while the emotional trauma of breaking up is painful, that she could experience it at two levels at the same time. She could wallow in the drama while, deep-down, understanding that it would pass and life would go on. I explained that this was not cynicism or lack of genuine emotion; her heart would be broken. Tears would be shed. My point was that, in the middle of this pain, that she should still be able to understand that all of it was normal.

So, last Friday, as I prepared to leave my daughter at college, I had the opportunity to reflect on my own advice.

Dropping off a kid at school is hard. Think back to the day you left yours at Kindergarten and multiply that by 100. I’m heartbroken to set only 3 plates for breakfast this morning. I’m forlorn when I walk past her room and realize that she won’t be coming home to it tonight. There is a new emptiness in my life.

And, of course, I expected all of this. I can figuratively sit back in that smug corner of my brain and observe the drama of my response. I can anticipate that I will be sad until I hear from Danielle in a few days. I’ll then be momentarily elated only to be depressed again, unsure when I’ll next hear from her or how much more detail I’ll ever get on the happenings in her life. I’ll fall into a pattern of waiting for the next holiday that brings her back home or looking for opportunities to visit her.

Eventually, as with all things, the highs and lows will attenuate. I’ll get used to the idea of not having her around. In a couple of years, I’ll go through it again with my son but I know that sooner or later I’ll start enjoying the empty nest.

Yes, all this is normal. No, knowing it does not make it any easier.