I knew we were in trouble when the plane made yet another merry-go-round swoop, circling the sprawling Atlanta area, waiting for clearance to land. Flight attendants buckled into jump seats; the red warning light kept crew and passengers tethered. The kind man in the aisle seat directed the overheat vents toward my daughter, who sat, motionless, rigid, palid, gripping the armrests. The plane dipped and banked as the tiny houses below whirled in a colorful, patchwork kaleidoscope.
I rummaged in the seat pocket and ferreted out the crumpled white bag and thrust it into action just as my daughter lurched and wretched. The plane made a final swoop, straightened, and frazzled passengers exhaled a collective sigh when the wheels finally bumped the pavement.
After the plane rolled to the gate and passengers crowded the aisles, tugging open overhead bins, a flight attendant offered up a bottle of water and dampened paper towels. My flummoxed and abashed daughter sheepishly apologized for the disruption. The kind man in the aisle seat patted her arm, told her he had daughters of his own at home, hoped that she felt better and that her college visits would go well.
This was one of the first of many adventures my daughter and I shared when we started the exciting — yet daunting — challenge of narrowing down her long list of potential colleges. Our trip to Atlanta was flanked by visits to LA and Little Rock, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
For this mom, packing a suitcase and heading out to visit a campus was a perfect excuse for packing in another memorable trip with my soon-to-grad-high-school daughter. I was racking up mileage and memories while she earnestly tried to picture herself in the campuses’ hallowed halls.
We dusted ourselves with white powdered beignets and bustled through the bawdy crowds on Bourbon Street. We posed under the Hollywood sign and marveled at the seaside, hilltop view in Malibu.
We sampled street food and hailed yellow cabs in New York. We yelled Boomer Sooner and warbled “Oklahoma” as we crossed Red River to visit my mom’s alma mater. At the campus bookstore, my daughter bought a coffee mug to cart home for her grandmother.
Together, my daughter and I trampled across the Lone Star State on long, lovely, weekend road trips. We’d pin on name badges and meet up with bouncy tour guides who rattled off college facts and pointed out campus amenities.
During The College Hunt, my daughter kept a huge whiteboard, using it to chart applications, essay deadlines, acceptance letters, and scheduled visits. She tallied tuition costs, national rankings and potential scholarship opportunities.
I was giddy to be part of The Hunt, thrilled that my serious, studious and pragmatic daughter was weighing the pros and cons of each school and not swayed by whether the football team made it to the Final 10 or if the party scene was adequate for a sheltered kid from the suburbs with strict parents who would soon dismiss curfews and make her own decisions.
I was honored to be part of The Hunt, humbled that my daughter wanted me to ride shotgun on visits as she narrowed the field. We visited small towns and big cities; Campuses touting co-ed dorms and religious classes. We visited party towns and sleepy hamlets. As the months went by and airline miles grew, more bright, red Xs colored the board when potential destinations didn’t make the cut.
It was really no surprise when one university rose to the top of the list — and after an impressive and impressionable campus visit — my daughter was officially smitten with her No. 1 choice. I was secretly relieved that my daughter’s ultimate selection was not taking her out-of-state or across the country.
I felt the same when we visited the campus — some intrinsic feeling that this was my daughter’s place, that she belonged here, that this is the school I secretly hoped she would select. I kept my opinions to myself and carefully gauged my daughter’s reactions when we visited classrooms, dorms, Mabee Cafeteria. I was pleased when she met two other girls on the visit, the trio chatting like longtime chums.
Likewise, I met up with a wonderful and charming group of parents. Under colorful umbrellas on the meandering River Walk, we spent a pleasant evening dining and sipping margaritas while our kids were off learning more about their potential college. After our amazing weekend visit, my daughter was giddy and excited on the drive back.
I came home from work one day to find my daughter dragging the whiteboard down the hall to stow in the garage. She filled out her acceptance form and started envisioning herself a Trinity University Tiger. Soon high school T shirts were replaced by a TU jersey. When she posted about her decision on social media, it started to sink in; I started to believe it. The Hunt was over. My daughter had made one of the most important decisions of her life and a whole new adventure was about to begin.
Unbelievably, I soon found us packing up the family sedan, buying dorm room essentials, and she was off. My baby, my little girl, my daughter was about to grow up.
I have not once regretted my daughter’s choice of schools. Trinity has been my student’s ideal match. As a mom, I am amazed and awed to have had the privilege of watching my daughter’s transformation from shy First Year to confident and capable Senior in the four years she has called Trinity and San Antonio home.
I think about those early college visits when my smart, but very shy, daughter wouldn’t even consider a dorm stay to learn more about the school. I think about the lunches in crowded cafeterias, when my shy kiddo was hesitant to join a table of other parent-student teams. I think about that Atlanta flight, thinking then, that there was no way my daughter could leave home and travel across the country. She was too young. She’d never find her luggage at baggage claim. She’d lose her airline ticket. She’d get snatched while hailing a cab.
I think about that Atlanta flight and remember how worried I was — not that my 17-year-old was sick from turbulence — but that stern and severe gut punch every parent gets when they finally realize they’re about to have to let go and let their child figure out how to find the air sick sack on their own.
My daughter’s four years at college have been, quite simply, amazing. Once she made up her mind, she set forth on her educational journey, seizing every opportunity, embracing her quest for knowledge in the classroom and through her associations with a stunning group of professors, administrators, friends and colleagues. She has experienced dorm life, sorority sisterhood, frat parties, afternoon teas, fine dining, nights of take-out pizza, her first crush, first apartment, grocery shopping, budgeting, and balancing the transition from student to soon-be-grad. She has learned the yin and yang of work and play, juggling and prioritizing and keeping it all in perspective; (something her driven, OCD-prone mom has yet to master.) I am in awe of my daughter’s drive, determination and dedication.
My daughter is loyal, trustworthy and does what she says she will do. She thinks critically, analyses aptly and has a world perspective that many my age will never possess. Through Trinity, my daughter has become an intrepid traveler, studying abroad in Germany and Spain. She wasn’t snatched while hailing a cab.
She did, however, get stung by some strange insect while sunning in a Madrid park and her ankle swelled up like a tree stump. (No, this neurotic mom did not board a hastily booked flight, though it was tempting when I first saw the texted pictures of the swollen and misshapen ankle.) My daughter and her host family managed just fine without me, and she recovered to enjoy an incredible summer. She has hundreds of photos documenting her adventures. At the end of the trip, my traveler’s flight back was uneventful and non-turbulent. She never even needed the white bag.
Through college, my daughter claims a close posse of smart and amazing friends who have become her second family. They are ambitious and humble, loyal and funny. After graduation, they will scatter like dandelion seeds on the wind, to do great and wonderful things. They will, no doubt, keep in touch. These friends will remain, lifelong and true. Likewise, my daughter has assembled an impressive team of mentors — professors and staff and colleagues and associates from whom she has learned so much. It is to these amazing minds she will, no doubt, continue to turn for professional and personal advice in the years to come. She is a part of something special: A legacy of learning. A community of caring. Alum of an outstanding university that fosters the very best in its students.
For my daughter, Trinity has provided an incredible education; a place where she was encouraged to explore, experiment, learn, listen, engage, evolve — and become herself.
In a few days, my husband and I will pack a suitcase. We’ll be making another road trip. This time, we’ll gather with other proud parents, watch through misty eyes as our baby, our little girl, our daughter, accepts her diploma. Four years of tests and teamwork, research papers and projects, exploration and adventure will be acknowledged. We are proud of our daughter’s scholarship. We are proud of her perseverance. Mostly, we are proud that she has become the person we always hoped she would be. She is capable and confident, able to take on life’s blessings and bounty and bumps in the road. She is Herself.
And this mom has absolutely no doubt my daughter will be able to find that little white bag should she ever need it.
Fly, my little bird, fly. You have wings and places to go.