The long, hot summer of 2019 has turned into the fall of our discontent. Our youngest is leaving the house. Along with her go her high school days with all our memories that went with them — the emotions, the best friends, the unforgettable teachers, the snow days. The sagas of childhood now passed, gone forever.
Saying goodbye is hard to do. Everything that was once familiar — discovering your daughter still in PJs at the kitchen table in the middle of the afternoon, the sound of the fridge door opening in the middle of the night, giggling when a friend comes to borrow a dress — suddenly there will be no more. How on earth can you prepare for that?
All our daughter’s friends have also flown the parental nest. The big exodus started in mid-August. The once-familiar faces are dispersing all over the United States. We wave goodbye, rejoicing or with heavy hearts. Cars packed full of suitcases, on the kitchen shelf a woolen cap pulled out of the cupboard for the coming fall. Hugs, tears, promises to call a lot.
At the end of the day we view the reports on Instagram. Wistful parents dragging a second-hand sofa into a dorm, a child who is a bit lost in the new room with a roommate who turns out to be “pretty nice.” Another kiss. Goodbye child, goodbye, unforgettable youth.
Our daughter leaves last. She also goes the farthest away, to the Netherlands. She had already laid out her suitcase a week in advance. This sweater or this one? Shall I bring my favorite shampoo? She pronounces it as an American shampoo with the emphasis on the “oe.” She sleeps poorly. I sleep poorly. We do a lot together and are often grumpy.
I show up at the last minute with my famous warnings. Remember, dear, in the Netherlands the drivers on the right have priority, unlike here, so stop at every intersection. And if the pedestrian light counts down, that does not mean that you have 10 seconds to cross, like here, but that you have to wait another ten seconds. “Mom, I all know that.”
On the way to the airport we talk about the things she is looking forward to. Dutch biscuits. The zoo. Bicycles. We drag her overflowing suitcase behind us and walk far too far with her at the airport. “Do you have a boarding pass?” a man in uniform asks me. We can just blow our daughter a quick kiss before she disappears down the corridor.
In the evening dusk we walk through the town. We stand still to look at the flight’s live app. Her plane is floating somewhere above the Atlantic. Will she have beautiful dreams of what is coming? Or will she be too worried to fall asleep?
On the streets we see a new group of fresh-faced students arriving in Princeton. Parents drag along with suitcases and moving boxes on one of the last warm days of the year. With a card in his hand, a heavily sweating father is looking for his daughter’s dorm, as she follows in white sneakers. As we show him the way, the thin girl looks intently at her phone.
Above us, a banner reading Welcome Class of 2023 flutters uncertainly in the evening breeze.
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her bestselling memoir, “Charlotte,” was published in 2017 in the U.S. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.