We have four days left until she heads off to West Lafayette to Boiler up! I use the exclamation point because that's what comes after those two words, not because I'm always excited at the thought of her starting her college career.
I'm proud of her -- it's hard not to be. And I'm happy and excited for this next chapter in her life. We've been preparing her for it since we read that first book to her and stepped back with our hands up in surrender when she insisted, "I can DO it myself."
But it's also sad to think that I'll soon call her name to tell her something funny or ask "Do these shoes live here?" and she won't be here to answer. Her shoes won't be clogging up the entry way. Her empty mac-n-cheese bowl won't be on the couch. She won't be on the other end of the couch when it's time to read or watch TV or nap.
A friend of mine told me about "soiling the nest," a phenomenon where kids about to leave home start acting badly in a subconscious way that makes it easier on everyone when it's time to part. Ali hasn't done that. If anything, she's done the opposite as she battles the bittersweet along with us.
She's not afraid to take on the challenge of college. She knows she'll be OK and that there will be a time of adjustment. But she admits that she'll miss us, too.
We've been shopping and packing and doing the things you need to do.
"This is weird," she said the other day as we were literally getting things she'd need in her new home.
I looked back at her and said, "What's weird is that I'm helping you do it."
In addition to her prep work, she's spent time with her closest friends. Two weeks in Ireland with one group and most recently with a different group she first met when they all sat at the same table at lunch their first day at Herron High School.
Every kid should be so lucky to have found friends like she has at Herron. I'd do anything for anyone of those beautiful people.
Ali's lunch table group has remained close all four years. At one point, they joked about forming a band that they'd call Seeds & Things, which is what they now call their little group.
They started their last-gathering-before-college at the state fair and then brought their giggles home to the living room where they splayed out everywhere. Because it was their last time together for a while, I didn't mind their giggles and goofiness. By 3 a.m., though, I had to give in and remind them that some of us had to work the next day. (Some of us included some of them.)
This was one of those rare times when Jeff's hearing issues worked to his advantage... I couldn't stay to make them breakfast, but I made a bunch of bacon, left them a note and told them to lock up when they leave. They even left me a thank you note!
In addition to the farewell tour, Ali has gotten her checking account, credit and debit cards. She's connected with her roommate, done her advance work and bought her first textbook. I asked her what she had left; was there anything she wanted to do.
"I just want to hang out with you guys," she said. So we had french onion soup at one of our favorite restaurants and played cards last night.
While Ali has been going out and being silly, I've been tearing apart the back porch. It was only recently I realized it's been keeping me sweaty and occupied so I don't think so much about Ali's departure. I've bloodied my knuckles scraping up old linoleum and torn nails as I stripped, primed and repainted wood elements out there. Soon, we'll be ready to apply wine panels to an ugly concrete wall that I've been staring down for 20+ years.
If I know me, I'll be over servicing my clients as the summer winds down and fall sets in. Let me know if you need work done -- any work, any work at all. I'm not picky. Anything's better than moping about like I've lost my favorite toy.
Which, of course, brings me to the Captain. He's putting on a brave face, too, but I think he's going to be just as sad as Ali and me. He'll make fun of us for it and hide most of his chagrin, but he's going to have a tough time. We've been so fortunate in Ali -- she's fun to be with. Almost always.
One thing that WILL help me cope is that she came home from babysitting the other day with a plastic snake. She'd taken her little charge to the arcade, spied the stupid thing and remembered the time she put a similar one on my shoulder while I was driving. She called my name from the back seat to get me to come eye to fang with the plastic reptile and I almost hit a tree in the midst of my panic attack.
Unremorseful then and unremorseful now, she claims she's going to hide it somewhere in the house before she leaves. Just, you know, so she's remembered. Maybe the little brat HAS soiled the nest...
The other night we debated whether to make dinner or go have onion soup. We ended up in Broad Ripple and were greeted with the sight below. She snapped the shot just as we walked in. I'm trying to take it as a harbinger not just of that evening but for what's to come. Wish me luck that I focus more on the rainbow than the gray skies headed my way.