The summer before my daughter started college at Texas Tech University, I accompanied her to Lubbock for Freshman Orientation. She was invited to attend orientation the week set aside for the Presidential Scholars so they could begin to get to know each other. I think there were about 50 or 60 in that group, but there were hundreds of other freshman there that weekend as well. We stayed in one of the dormitory rooms, took campus tours, and attended various sessions for parents and students, including a function with President Bob Lawless. I was impressed that when I introduced myself to President Lawless, he told me how glad they were to have Kelly at Tech. The man did his homework; he knew all the scholars’ names.
On Saturday night, there was a mixer for all the students, and my shy daughter was reluctant to go. She had purposely chosen a large school in another state to “reinvent” herself, but she had cold feet. She was now afraid she wouldn’t know anyone, afraid no one would speak to her. I can’t remember clearly, but I think there were a few tears (hers or mine, I’m not sure). “Go to the party,” I urged her. “Give it an hour, and if you really don’t want to stay, come back to the room.” I walked her halfway across campus to the student union building and told her I’d come back in an hour and wait in the same spot for 10 minutes. If she chose to ditch the party, I’d be there waiting for her. If she decided to stay, she could walk back to the dorm with the other students when it was over.
An hour later, I returned alone from the appointed spot and waited up for her a little anxiously, to hear how things had gone. She returned, elated to have met a girl she had gone to middle school with but with whom she’d lost touch. She had met some new people as well, and she had really enjoyed herself. My daughter was now eager to move to campus in the fall. It was then that I knew she would be all right; I was out of a job, and I celebrated her victory over fear.
It was a different story the day that same daughter started Kindergarten, many years earlier. I remember the same nervousness and excitement. I imagined the tears as she clung to me, refusing to let me pry her hands off my shirt as I left her in the care of her first teacher. When we got to the classroom door, and I prepared for the tearful goodbye, my daughter tossed a “Bye, Mom” over her shoulder and carried herself determinedly and tearlessly into the unknown realm of school. I cried all the way home.
What I learned between my daughter’s first and last days of school was a meaningful lesson. My job as a mom, and now as a teacher, is to support those children in my care as long as they need me. My goal, then and now, is for them not to need me. I want my students to stand on their own, prepared to go forward into an independent life. Every year, I am entrusted with a new crop of young girls who are confused and afraid. I prod them, often against their wills, to take responsibility for themselves and their children, to become more educated, self-confident young moms. My job is to put myself out of a job.