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Ships, Harbors, Journeys: Sending my daughter off to college

My daughter came home recently and told me that she had found the tattoo she would get were she to get a tattoo. It was a quote that said “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not why ships are built.” When I looked it up, I saw that its attribution seems to be in some doubt. But its meaning is clear.

My daughter and I are both getting ready to set sail from our own safe harbors and although we know that that is for what we were built, the anxiety and fear slide easily in on top of the necessity and excitement. Each day for both of us, separately and together, is a bit of a roller coaster.

My daughter is headed to college in Boston, and I am moving from Virginia, a state in which I have lived for twenty-six years, to Savannah, Georgia.

The house is full of boxes, packed and partly packed, suitcases, and the detritus that comes with moving. It is unsettling. Unsettling and exhilarating. Terrible and wonderful.

My daughter is the last of my two children to leave the nest. The thought of walking by her empty bedroom is almost unbearable. But that is not why I am moving. I am fulfilling a dream to live by the water and now I shall be free to do it, knowing that in many small ways, I shall always be tethered to the places I have left.

When my son exited my house, the transition seemed somewhat easier. I still had my daughter to occupy my time and my energy. But I also had a huge and nearly empty house that had recently been the scene of a divorce from my children’s father. Two years later, with a new husband and my daughter in tow, I moved up the road from the town in which I had raised those children, to another Virginia town forty minutes away. Here my daughter and I spent four years, mostly alone together, when my second marriage failed. Here my daughter attended high school and grew up. Here I learned a new town, made new friends. But I knew, all the while, that when she left I would, too. This town, as lovely as it is, as wonderful as it has been to both of us, was just a holding pattern. When my daughter left for college I would, finally, make a home in a place I had chosen. By the water, with no old ghosts wandering it.

Yet this setting sail from our safe harbor is no easy task for either my daughter or me.

She is beginning a whole new life. As an eighteen year old adult she will have to learn to make her own decisions, she will have to learn that I am not right there to catch her when she falls. She will have to maneuver a city, a college, friends, and lovers. She will have to remember her own homework, find her own keys, tend to her own obligations. I will not be right outside her room to consult on which outfit she will wear.

This is, of course, a good thing. She is more than ready. And I raised her, as I did my son, to move away from me. To take what I had given both my children and use it as they navigate the new and stormy waters alone. My kids are good, solid, decent, smart, and clever. They are also loving and kind. My daughter will be fine, I tell myself. She will be fine, she tells herself. And yet the ache of longing for both of us makes us, if only for a moment, wish to stay put in our safe harbor. To stand fast in the life we have made, a life that is known, comfortable, and not very scary.

Yet the truth is that the world is a scary place, no matter where you dock. I was living in this house when I lost my father, when my sisters and I became estranged. I was in this house when my son lost his way. My daughter was in this house when her brother almost lost his balance completely, when a dear friend committed suicide, when other losses occurred. She was in this house when friends began to leave and go away to college, when friendships changed. She was in this house as she grew from a child into a woman. We both know that tragedy and triumph can find you wherever you sail, whatever harbor you find yourself in.
I will miss my synagogue, my dear friends, some astonishing acquaintances. I shall miss my regular weekly mah jongg game, the man at the coffee and tea kiosk who begins to make my order as soon as he sees my car, my pharmacist who steps up with my medicines without my even asking. I will miss walking the downtown and seeing familiar faces. I will miss knowing the territory. My daughter will miss all that, too. She will miss her long country drives, the mountains she adores, the friends who gather ‘round her. She will miss the intimate knowledge of the topography. She will miss her brother who is a half hour away and with whom a deep and intimate and wondrous relationship has been fashioned from the natural antagonism of siblings.

I recently had all my old VHS tapes digitized so that I could put them on DVD, save them from deterioration, view them more easily. So that they would take up less space. But in viewing them I see that the saving of space is an illusion, just as the safety of a harbor is. The memories that grab us and hold on tight are larger than any box we can find for them. The history that permeates each place we live catches us hard and fast; it wraps around us like a blanket, even as we drive down the road to a new place to land.

3 thoughts on “Ships, Harbors, Journeys: Sending my daughter off to college”

  1. Hopefully, a moving ship gathers no barnacles:-) Good processing and a heartfelt piece, Lisa. I’m not saying goodbye because I expect you to come visit.

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