My daughter learned this past November that she was accepted to the college of her dreams, something she had been excitedly preparing for since she started high school.
The preparation and planning began with decisions like whether to take the SAT or ACT, what extracurricular activities to commit to, the struggle of not getting involved in high school drama, working on becoming an honor student and staying focused on her goals. She committed her time and efforts to the HS newspaper and registered for summer programs at Columbia. The entire time, I believed Columbia would be the college of her choice. It made me feel safe that she would be close to home.
After 3 years of high school, it was time for us start our college tours. She decided on 13 universities that we would be touring, two in New York, Columbia and New York University. The others were located in Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington DC and Pennsylvania.
I remember the day we visited UPenn, her exact words were “this is where I belong”. As a mother who constantly encouraged her daughter to follow her dreams, I unselfishly supported her choice. She spent the first 4 months of her senior year doing everything she possibly could to get accepted to the school of her choice.
The moment had arrived, the decisions were posted online… My daughter was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania… We were overwhelmed with joy! From that day on, we tried to prepare what we thought it would be like for her to live in Philadelphia.
We both were trying to reassure ourselves it’s only 2 hours away and you can come home frequently. By the end of July and the beginning of August, we began to shop for her dorm room. The whole experience felt surreal, we were going through the motions and neither of us knew how difficult it really would be.
Moving day crept up rather quickly – August 23rd, 1:00pm. It all seemed to go so fast, an assembly line to my daughter’s room, moving in all of her things that we thought would make her feel comfortable and make the transition from home to dorm easier.
We spent the afternoon together and then at 5:00 PM she needed to attend a scheduled orientation. We both looked at each other and she asked “do you have to go now?” Tears welting – I could not speak. She looked horrified; I felt like I was abandoning her and not protecting my baby. She wanted to know if she had made a mistake; I responded, through tears, that this was one of the best choices that she would make in her life. She asked me not to leave since she wasn’t sure how long orientation was. I waited on campus until 7:00PM when she told me it was ok to go and to have a safe trip home.
I cried the entire drive home,constantly staring at my phone, waiting for her to call me. Finally, at 9:00 PM she called to let me know she was back in her dorm room. Over the next several days she would tell me how lonely and isolated she felt. I kept encouraging her that it would get better. In her eyes, she felt no one was lonely except for her. Even with the freshmen activities the school had organized, it didn’t seem to help. The first week felt as if time wasn’t moving and everyday was a struggle for both of us. Weeks 2 and 3 started to improve as classes began and UPenn’s campus became more familiar with each day.
What we both learned from this life changing experience is that no matter what preparations are taken, nothing but time, love, support and knowing that you are not alone can help you get through such a difficult time.
ARTICLE: Nicoletta Pallotta. MD, LCSW
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