Tonight I will feel older than I did this morning. My little-girl-who-turned-into-a-young-woman is boarding a plane to go to college Outside.
This is the latest step in her spectacular year of transition, commonly known as "leaving the nest." Although we have another one to keep us quite busy in the parenting business for three more years, this turning point causes a major twinge.
A big chunk of the emotion, I confess, is jealousy.
In November I took her on a trip to the Lower 48 to visit colleges. We walked past ivy-covered stone buildings, under broad-limbed deciduous trees that do not grow in Alaska and rubbed shoulders with countless college students. They were cheerful creatures with inquiring minds and good muscle tone.
Bonnie found a campus where she felt a special kinship, they liked her in return and ever since she has been counting the days.
The entire "college thing" for her has filled me with -- dare I say it? -- nostalgia.
I found myself surreptitiously going through her college catalog. I want to take some of those classes myself. I hovered as she filled out questionnaires, offering unsolicited advice about which classes to take and which books to pack.
It would be great to be 18, full of enthusiasm and potential, setting off on one of life's grandest adventures. (It would be great to have the body I had when I was 18, too.)
I remember the start of my freshman year with great fondness: Settling in with a semi-compatible roommate, reading translations of ancient Greek masterpieces in the pine tree next to the dorm until I got pitch on my pants, eavesdropping through the wall on the guys in the room next door and meeting a goofy-but-sweet guy at the freshmen orientation picnic who eventually became my husband.
Of course college was not all rosy. Terrible things happened during those years. But on the whole, seen with a generation of hindsight, my four years at a small, challenging liberal arts school were worthwhile and formative.
Over the past year, I've realized how many great friends, ideas and books I still treasure from that time.
So Bonnie is on her way to Connecticut, to Wesleyan University. She will move into a triple with Elizabeth from Baltimore and Rachel from a suburb of New York City. The school in many ways resembles my alma mater, Carleton College.
I suspect she will face many of the challenges that confronted me: how to avoid beer, the scent of marijuana in the air, the sex-crazy guys, roommate weirdness, the temptation to stay up all night having long talks instead of studying and the dismaying discovery that the professors' expectations are miles above those of high school teachers.
She will have an added dimension to her adjustment I never faced. She will be the exotic chick from far-off Alaska. She will have to enlighten those Easterners that Alaskans are not Eskimos who live in igloos. She can prove by her example that we are actually a purple-haired, pale-skinned race that smells of fish and swears in Finnish.
One of my great regrets is that we cannot escort her to campus, one of the hallowed rites of passage. I remember my own parents driving me from the Chicago suburbs up to Minnesota, the family station wagon packed to the roof with my boxes and bags. I was in a state of mingled dread and delight the whole way, while my bored little brothers squabbled in the back seat. We discovered another car traveling the same route and, by holding scrawled notes up to the window, I "met" a girl from my own dorm as we barreled up the interstate.
But Doug and I figured that it would take weeks to drive Bonnie to campus and come back.
So tonight we will take her to the airport in Kenai and say our awkward and sentimental goodbye in that familiar setting.
While other freshmen will arrive on campus Monday with entourages of family and friends, she will come alone on an airport shuttle bus, bleary after a night on the red-eye flight south from Anchorage. She will rely on strangers to help her carry boxes to her second-floor room.
I wish I could be there, to see the room, to do something helpful, to meet these roommates.
But I guess the situation has real advantages for her.
While the other freshmen will be trying to get their clinging families to leave, she will be free to move on and start checking out the campus guys.
And in the meantime, her little sister and I have gone over to Kenai Peninsula College and signed up for classes ourselves.
Shana Loshbaugh is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.
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