And She’s Off! My Niece is Leaving for College and I’ve Got Big Feelings!
I’ve been feeling sentimental lately. My sister’s daughter leaves for her freshman year of college this week. With her and her parents’ permission, I’m sharing the letter I wrote for my one and only niece.
I remember the day your mom told me I was going to be an aunt. I ran around screaming with excitement. To say that I was elated is an understatement. For months, I watched your mom’s belly grow with exponential excitement. On an early morning in February, we got a call from your Dad announcing his beautiful daughter had arrived. It was a school day and there were no substitute teachers available to cover my classroom. Plus, a major snowstorm was forecasted to shut down Chicago. I didn’t care. I had to see my niece! Holding you in my arms was magical. Seeing your Mom become a mother to such a perfect, tiny, precious being, was pure joy. My love for your Mom instantly extended to you and I’ve been head over heels ever since.
When I was a kid, I hated being the little sister. Your Mom got to do everything three years before me. Plus, she always knew more than I did about EVERYTHING….it was infuriating. As I entered young adulthood, I grew to love the perks of being born second. I counted on my big sister to do everything first and then show me the ropes. I followed your Mom to college, lived in the same dorm she had three years prior, joined the same sorority, and even selected the same apartment my senior year. I got engaged three years after your Mom and Dad did and was married at the same age as your Mom. Although we’re different in a lot of ways, I loved that your Mom experienced these moments first and then offered (forced?) her advice.
As a parent, I have gotten to watch your Mom reach all the milestones of motherhood before me. From night-time feedings, to teaching you how to drive, I’ve learned from the expert. I know, like all mothers and daughters, sometimes you drive each other crazy. Especially now, with only days remaining until you leave for college, emotions are running high. I wish I had some wise advice about savoring these last few days living under your parents’ roof, but I remember being your age and not wanting advice from adults.
When I went off to college, adults told me I was about to have the best four years of my life. Others advised me to appreciate every moment because college is a time that can never be replicated and would be over in the blink of an eye. They said college is an experience that can only be appreciated from the proverbial rearview mirror. These people seemed impossibly old and stupid. Time crawled when I pulled all-nighters studying for finals or struggled to write term papers.
I didn’t know it then, but this advice could not have been more accurate. Sometimes, the decades after college blur together for me. I’m unable to recall when certain events occurred. Was I 28 when that happened, or was I 36? But college experiences are distinctly carved in my memory. I can tell you all about the crazy outgoing answering machines messages my freshman roommate and I crafted (we were in the super cool category). I can still sing you full songs from sorority skits, describe inside jokes, and list dozens of nicknames and the stories behind them. Even now, if a song comes on the radio, I can tell you where I was when I first heard it in college. At 18, I could not have imagined that the friends who lived down the hall would one day live across the country. I certainly could not have foreseen that the friendships I cultivated during those four years would serve as my core support system to this day.
Looking back on my own college memories and forward to being in your Mom’s shoes three years from now, I have never been happier to be the younger sister. I will watch my big sister take her first-born to college and learn from her. I’m not talking about buying bedding, selecting dorm decor, and packing bags. That, I can do. I just don’t know how to drop my child off in an unfamiliar place and head home without him. I need to watch my big sister do it first.
This is something you won’t truly understand for several decades and that’s exactly how it should be. From the moment they began their parenting journey, your Mom and Dad have devoted themselves to loving, protecting, nurturing and worrying about you. Some may say that your Mom has turned worrying into an art form! I’m guessing when your parents say good-bye, they will feel a sense of overwhelming pride mixed with tremendous sadness. They will be both grateful and heartbroken because they know you’re ready.
And Hannah, you are ready! You’re smart, well-spoken, kind, dedicated, and beautiful inside and out. Earlier in my letter, I called your mom a parenting expert. I didn’t use that term because she’s a pediatrician. I used it because only experts, like your Mom and Dad, could raise a daughter as exceptional as you.
I Love You to the Moon and Back,