Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sometimes having a kid in college is like not having a kid at all

As you may know, my oldest daughter Elissa is a sophomore at Cleveland State University. Unlike most CSU students, however, Elissa lives on campus.

This concept is still foreign to me, more than a year into her tenure there. Cleveland State was always a commuter school when I was growing up, and it still largely is.

Elissa is a member of an elite group of 1,000 or so kids (out of a total student body of 17,000-plus) who live their lives mostly within the physical confines of the university. For the second year in a row, she calls the venerable Fenn Tower in Downtown Cleveland home.

Cleveland State is only 20-25 minutes from our house, and last year Elissa kept a car on campus. Which meant we saw her all the time. Which in turn meant it never felt like she was really living "away from home." We saw her so much that it was like she was just having a series of really fun, academically themed sleepovers at friends' houses.

But this year Elissa chose not to pay the $500 parking fee to keep a car at CSU, and she works right there on campus. So the only time we get to see her is when she bums a ride home or when we bring her here ourselves.

Now, for the first time, I'm experiencing what it's really like to have a child away at college. And I'm not sure I like it much.

For nearly two decades, Elissa has always been nearby. And while, geographically speaking, she's still nearby, she may as well be going to school in Shanghai, for as much as we see her.

She still has a bed here at the house, of course, though now she has to share a (large) room with Chloe. Over the Labor Day weekend, we moved Melanie out of Chloe's room and into The Room Formerly Known as Elissa's Room, a move with which Elissa wasn't especially happy.

But let's face it...we're not going to maintain an empty room for nine months of the year while Elissa is off doing whatever it is that college kids do (which I'm sure consists only of going to classes, doing homework, and watching reruns of "Little House on the Prairie"). For the relatively small portion of the year when she lives with us, Elissa can share a room with her sister.

I'm actually glad we did that, because the sight of that lonely, empty room really made me miss her. I know millions of parents have been through this before and everything turned out just fine, but that doesn't make it any easier.

For the first few years of Elissa's life, she spent most of her days with me. I worked nights while my wife worked days, so we never needed a day care provider. I would take care of Elissa from about 8  in the morning through 5:30 in the afternoon, at which point Terry would come home and take over childcare duties while I went off to work.

The result was that I became extremely close to my daughter, and knowing she was living just upstairs these last several years has been a comforting thought.

Now she's almost 20, and the paradigm from here on out will be NOT seeing her far more than actually seeing her. That's just the way it is when your kids become adults, and the logical half of my brain is perfectly fine with this arrangement.

But the other half, the half that's more "Daddy" than "Father," isn't quite ready to accept it. It chooses to ignore the fact that what Elissa needs at this point in her life is independence. She needs to stretch those proverbial wings, make her mistakes, and become the grown-up we want her to be.

I just wish there was a way she could do all of that here at home. She could even have her old room back. I just need to tell Melanie...

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