09 Feb From Cradle To Campus
As she helps her daughter pack to go away to university, Alex Field reflects on their close relationship and shared experiences.
I am helping my daughter pack for her first year of university. I am sending her off into the world armed with her belongings in a suitcase, and a few cooking utensils. She will be living on campus, three hours from the place she has called home for the past 18 years. She is filled with excitement at the prospect of this new phase in her life. I, on the other hand, cannot help but reminisce over my daughter’s younger years and everything we have been through together.
I was 19 when she came into my world. I fumbled through the motherhood thing, unsure of everything except my love for her. The pregnancy and birth were the easy parts. Feeding was hard and after six months I gave up and started her on a bottle. She had consistently lost weight over the preceding three months. Even at 19, I was perilously aware of the discrimination towards mothers who fed their baby with a bottle! I was desperate to do everything right and prove to all around me that I could be a good mother. This was the first of many guilt trips with which mothers are all too familiar.
We attempted to move forward. I cuddled her when she cried, sat by her bedside when she was in hospital, held her hand and walked her into her first day of kindergarten and, later, her first day of school. Primary school provided a happy environment for my daughter and she thrived in a small, nurturing setting where class sizes were small.
As she moved on to high school, I coaxed her through those early days in Year 7 when she struggled socially. I attended school swimming carnivals, athletics carnivals, concerts and plays. I watched my daughter grow into a young lady and we started going out to the ballet and theatre together and enjoying each other’s company.
However, the teenage years brought a new set of challenges. I said ‘no’ more than ‘yes’ to parties and other social gatherings I deemed inappropriate, always questioning myself as to whether this was too harsh. Was I creating a situation where my daughter would be ostracised by her peers? Trust became an integral part of finding my way through the murky waters of supporting a teenager. Slowly, I relaxed slightly, and my daughter found her way. Mobile phones provided a constant form of communication and we agreed on curfews and dress codes most of the time!
As I was educated in the UK, I learned along with my daughter the intricacies of the assessment process in the senior secondary years. Step by step we made our way together. There was no rule book; just a desire to keep my daughter safe and happy.
Once the Year 12 exams were over, we followed through on a pact we had made back in that gruelling Year 7. We boarded a plane and went away for a week together. It was our celebration and it was a week neither of us will forget. We found our way around a new city, marvelled at our surroundings and huddled together against the cold. We agreed to differ. I carried a map around with me so we would not get lost, and meticulously planned our days. She insisted that I needed more spontaneity in my life, but she was unable to decide what to do spontaneously! We worked well together. It was a magical week during which I watched my daughter stop traffic and realised that perhaps the ravages of time had caught up with me!
As we headed home, our plane was full of tiny children, whose parents were weary from the long flight. It sparked memories of those many hideous flights I had been on in the past when my daughter was a toddler. But we have passed that now, along with many magical moments and milestones.
As we returned to the news of her exam results, my daughter was on cloud nine. She did not come top of the State, but she did surpass both her and my expectations, and for that I am bursting with pride.
As I bundle her off to university I am full of apprehension. Will she cope on her own? Has she chosen the right course? Will she make friends? After 18 years, can I let go of my daughter? I know the answer is, and always will be, no. I was close to the age she is now when I had her. I have looked after her since I left high school. Our lives are irrevocably intertwined.
Deep down, I know she will be fine. I am not so sure about myself. I will miss her more than I can say.
Illustration by Amanda Upton