Hazel is obsessed with college. She's five. BUT. Last fall our favorite babysitter went away to college so we had some explaining to do. We gave her the five-year-old version, from admissions to graduation, and her mind opened up to life beyond kindergarten. She would occasionally ask me a question about college in general ("What do college people like to eat?") or my time in college ("Mom, did you miss me when you were at college?"). Because of her fascination, I've started telling more stories about my college years and she is always interested.
Then in December her oldest cousin, a high school senior, was accepted to William & Mary, and there was a lot of hubbub around our house about it. Good for him, we're so proud, can't believe he's already 18, he'll be closer to us, it's so exciting, etc. After Christmas, that cousin and the rest of his family came to visit, and the girls referred to him exclusively as Mr. College Man* (and still do.)
Hazel, with her very tender heart, is especially focused on the aspect of college as the first time a child leaves home for good. Leaves. Goes and lives somewhere else without their family. She is emphatic that she wants to go to college in Virginia so she can always be near me. I just smile and let that idea linger as long as it will (can I get that notarized?)
Last Sunday during church Hazel nudged me, and with tears in her eyes showed me this picture she had drawn:In case you can't tell, it is her leaving for college, and all of us so sad because we will miss her. I pulled her close to me and let the tears run down her face. I kissed her head and told her not to forget her tender heart, so she added it in. Just between you and me, I don't need this. It is hard enough to watch her go to kindergarten, to have friends I don't know, to go up a shoe size. Every growth is heartwrenchingly bittersweet and I'm just not ready to think about that most poignant of days when she will go off, grown up, and be glad to be gone.
But I don't tell her that. Don't have to; she knows it. It's all there in the drawing. I just hug her and tell her I'm glad for the time we have (12 more years and ticking away), and tell her how fun college is.
So the next day I was cleaning the kitchen and I asked her to clean the sink in the nearby bathroom. I gave her a spray bottle of cleaner and some paper towels. She asked to have her hair up in a ponytail. She moved out the stepstools and all the stuff on the sink and started spraying and wiping. "Hey Mom," she said, "it's like I'm in my own apartment!"
"Uh, yeah, I guess so."
"It's like this is my apartment and I'm cleaning it. Look, I'm just like a real college person!"
Of course anyone who lived with roommates in college knows that's not at all like a real college person, but at the moment it was profound. She gets it, she has a vision for her life, a real vision. She's moved out of I-wanna-be-a-princess-butterfly to I-wanna-be-a-college-person. And with role models to look up to, time to work through her feelings, a ponytail, a paper towel and spray bottle in hand, I guess she's on her way.
*My sister wrote a super blog post about her son turning 18. Not sappy stuff, very practical, about what an 18-year-old needs to know about being a grown-up. An excellent preview for those of us in the early childhood trenches.