My teenager and I were in the carryout line at Tropical Smoothie the other day, and I was
commenting on their adorable “stop on the flop” social-distancing floor stickers. (I mean, come
on: brand-appropriate AND rhyming?) I realized I was standing back from my daughter and
moved up to give her a side hug. I told her, “I’m so glad we don’t have to be six feet apart.”
Just to put my arm around her felt like a gift.
My teenager is a class of 2021 high school senior. As much as anyone is planning anything
these days, she’s planning to go to college three states and a day’s drive away. It’s absolutely
the right place for her. She knew it the minute we drove onto campus, barely sneaking her tour
in before the world shut down. Students were literally moving out while we were eating our
requisite sample meal in the cafeteria and touring a library so gorgeous, I have no idea how my
daughter will ever leave the place.
The major and minor package this second and last baby of mine is putting together plays to
her strengths and passions and (hallelujah) seems like something she should be able to make a
living off of someday.
If she’d had her way, my then-junior would have filled out an application, waited for the school
to accept her, and registered for classes while I parked myself in the welcome center lobby and
started working on her FAFSA.
I can already see my rising college freshman working and studying and making friends and
getting involved in campus life (powder puff football has come up a couple times). I can already
see her making friends who might end up being bridesmaids in her wedding. I can already see
her making a difference in the world in her chosen fields. I’m every bit as excited for her as she
is for herself.
But letting her go is going to be hard, which is why I’m grateful I’ve been able to hold onto her
for so much of the last year.
I had this baby to myself for a big chunk of her first four years while her dad was at work and
her big sister was in preschool and in early elementary. We grocery shopped together and went
to the library together and took naps on our big deep couch together. Even when she started
school, we spent late afternoons and early evenings keeping each other company, shlepping
her older sister around to girls’ chorus rehearsals and killing time wandering the halls of the
music building. I called her my buddy.
Soon, though, I’ll be sharing this buddy with friends and professors and teammates and
roommates and employers and coworkers. This is all as it should be…all as we both want it to
be. But it makes me even more thankful I had her almost all to myself when I wasn’t even
Over the past year, my teenager and I baked together and stayed up late watching movies
together and binged on Netflix together and talked together and planned together and hashed
out problems together, in previously unheard-of quantity and quality.
My student didn’t have to be up early for school, so we could stay up late watching movies. I
was especially gratified that she preferred “old” movies, by which she meant movies from the
‘90s. She said the new movies were too “fast-moving.” She loved crime mysteries and, unlike
me, did not want to be told which characters she could safely get attached to.
My dancer wasn’t spending her evenings at her studio, so we could spend them in our kitchen,
baking. We made homemade English muffins and sweet potato cornbread and peanut butter
sheet cake and other treats we balanced out with broccoli and workouts on our deserted
My social butterfly wasn’t out with friends, so we had the luxury of long conversations about
her future and what her senior year might look like and personal battles new to both of us and
our family history (she’s my “tell me a story” girl).
On account of coronavirus, we had plenty of uncontested clearance in our schedules for all
this. For everything that was lost to the pandemic, I gained time with my daughter I would,
under normal circumstances, never have permitted myself to hope for, much less ask for.
In a shockingly few months, we’ll be loading up two small SUVs with a mini fridge, a bunch of
clothing, a tapestry (I think, based on an Amazon purchase notification I saw not long ago,
post-paid in babysitting cash), and the bedding that fits my daughter’s “vision” for her dorm
room, which she coordinated with the roommate she found online via a chat group for
accepted students at her university. E-ZPass account in effect, we’ll be driving my teenager to
the place a big part of her heart has been for the past year.
Because I know my daughter, I know I’ll be giving the world a gift when I send her out into it.
But I’ll always be grateful that for these past months, I’m the one who got the present.
This is a contributed post. Elizabeth Spencer is mom to one teenage daughter and one young adult daughter. She writes about family, faith, and food (with some occasional funny thrown in) for various websites and as Guilty Chocoholic Mama on Facebook. She is the author of Known By His Names: A 365-Day Journey From The Beginning to The Amen, available on Amazon.