I took my kid to her college orientation this past week. Was hella weird, but not. That’s mostly how it goes with us.
We’re so close. Writing that actually sounds trite. But it’s true. I had Maygan when I was 19. That was a different lifetime ago for me. In fact, a lot of lives ago. But 17 years later I live on a different planet from Southeast Louisiana, where she was born. Thibodaux, LA to be exact — not where I’m from, but where I ended up then. The teeniest, tiniest bayou town one can image. Fifty miles south of New Orleans, where I would quickly move after college.
Maygan and me. We made a life. But I grew up with that kid. I’m still growing up with that kid. And to find myself walking her into her college orientation, huh. Neither of us were weepy or nostalgic or freaked out. We just walked in, ready / not ready. Our plan, in general. They handed out copies of ‘The Circle’ to new students. Maygan looked at me knowing I’d finished that book in a weekend and had a lot to say about it. I Tweeted the cover right away. She knew I’d want to, so held it up for me. Apparently Dave Eggers is speaking at their opening convocation. I mean, I’m not jealous or anything. Sigh.
She officially leaves for college in three weeks. I don’t even believe it. I slept in a twin bed with her for years. Me and little Maygan. She was with me when my dad died, the first semester I went back to school after having her. She was three and always around when I met Jason, my husband, who has been her stepdad and champion from the second they met. She went to my college graduation. I started grad school the same week she started kindergarten.
I think now about all the choices I made that I didn’t really even think about because I couldn’t have possibly REALLY thought about them. I didn’t understand enough. I just knew I had big dreams and I never thought for a minute that having a baby made it any harder, really. The irony of being so young and just doing what was required to make it all work is that you don’t dwell on picking the wrongs things so much. You just move forward and it’s exciting. New apartments, new jobs, no savings, lots of going out and cool road trips and big ideas.
At her orientation I was mistaken for a student a few times. Which isn’t entirely uncommon. We’ve dealt with the ‘are you two sisters?’ thing a lot (even made a short film about it — screen grab above!). She generally hates it, and generally speaking, I don’t. Mostly it’s just an LOL. Whatever, judge me, people. Looking around at the other parents in the orientation, there easily wasn’t a single person within 10 plus years of my age. On either side. That’s the nowheresville weirdness for me. I don’t know who my peer set is. Not that it’s a tragedy of any sort, but it’s a strange thing to be out at sea that way when a lot people look at you as if you’ve figured something out.
Right now two of my best girlfriends are pregnant with their first child. I have no idea what to say to them. I don’t coo over babies, really. I can’t relate to anyone trying to get pregnant — which happens to be everyone my age. My stories back to them sound like old people talking. Back in the stone ages when I was pregnant and didn’t know people tried to get .. Anyway. I have a second daughter, Anna Corrine. She’s nine now. And she’s the cat’s meow, that girl. Jason and I are still some of the youngest parents in her school. And no one our age has a kid going into college. Crazytown. Nowheresville. Granted, there is likely a delta between the median childbearing age in Southeast Louisiana and the DC region. But whatever, it’s still weird. I’ve spent the last decade generally trying to come off older — hey, I had a baby, I was going hard on my career. Not that I ever lied about my age, but from the time I was 25ish I began to be squirmy about my actual age. Now when people realize I have a 17-year-old, I just get over the awkwardness for them and say I had a baby when I was in college. And they say, ‘oh.’ And we try to move on.
Jason and I will still have over $30K in student loan debt when Maygan starts school. Somehow this feels bad, but not. Because whatever, we’ll pay it off. I was sitting in that auditorium staring at the moms in, err, mom jeans and thinking that I bet they didn’t have $30K in student loan debt. But maybe they do? There was one dad who kept asking a million questions about the safety of the dorm and the ‘protection of the children.’ All fair questions. But then he got so specific and wanted to know what the university was going to do if his ‘straight arrow’ daughter ended up with a roommate who made ‘bad choices’ and drank alcohol or smoked pot. And the woman giving the presentation could not hear him so he repeated himself and actually held his fingers up to his mouth and made the worst pretend-to-be-smoking pot impression I’ve ever seen. It was so bad I visibly cringed and then actually laughed out loud on accident. Everyone turned to look at me. I stared down at my phone and wanted to die. I felt like a student. I have no idea how the woman answered him but I’m sure it was some version of a zero-tolerance policy. And I’m sure that half the parents in the presentation asked to make sure their kid is not in my kid’s room. Sorry.
Last December was a cool time for haircuts in our house. Anna Corrine was rocking the full Miley — as in, shaved head exactly like the ‘Wrecking Ball’ video (see photo above). My gorgeous AC was a sight. And Maygan and I both had an undercut — a full shave on the side of our head — think Skrillex, but for girls (photo at the top of this post). A guy named Nate from Immortal Beloved salon on 14th Street in DC did all of our hair. It was fun. It felt pretty cool going out and folks noticing. I wasn’t thinking at the time that in less than a year Maygan would be off on her own, and it would just be AC and me deciding the next nowness in hair styling (this spring / summer it’s been the ‘high fashion girl mullet’). I’m going to cry buckets.
I know I am not the first woman to have a kid at 19 and go to college, launch a fast-moving career, move across the country, participate in big journalism honors, travel the world, geek out and go hard on what’s next — all at the same time keeping my girls right there with me. So if there is someone in my situation, would be really cool to hear from you. Because I’m terrified of being alone. She’s not just my kid, she’s my best friend; she’s the reason I’ve fought and in the most counterintuitive way, the reason it’s been easy enough.
The craziest thing is when people ask if I am going to have another kid. The worst part is THINKING about that. Because when you think about it, you start worrying about the time and the money and getting older and all these things that never crossed my mind 19 years ago. Or even 9 years ago.
Maygan applied to few schools before settling on Virginia Commonwealth University. She really wanted to go to the University of Washington. She loves Seattle and it loves her back. But it didn’t happen. I felt horrible. I’ve managed to win big awards in my work, but I have no real idea how to get her in one of them there top tier schools. We moved across the country, suddenly, and for the second time, right when she was starting high school. It was hard, we were all adjusting to life in the east coast fast lane, where everyone’s GPA is higher than yours and college prep begins when you learn your ABCs. Not really her jam, she’s an art kid. I didn’t push it. I just wanted her to be happy and get through to the otherside. There were tough times, really tough ones, but she got there. I beat myself up a bit for not making her high school and college process my number one job. It was a priority of course, but it wasn’t my full time job. Pretty sure some of those parents (not-$30K-student-loan-debt lady and straight-arrow, not-actual-pot-smoker dad) did that in some way.
I don’t have regrets about my life, I just keep moving forward and try to do the best I can with what’s right there at the time. Right now that’s getting her ready to ship off by going to Target and buying every single kind of face wash she wants. And eating at Chipotle as much as we can / want. And venti iced coffees and shopping sprees at American Apparel and getting our hair cut by Nate one last time. I’m gonna miss that girl. I owe her everything.