Our girl is graduating from college this coming Saturday. In a fugue state, I address the announcements. How did it happen so fast? I still remember the scent of the back of her infant neck, a peachy milky perfume, and the feel of her velvety bald head against my cheek.

My mother tells me these things are never forgotten, and for that I'm glad. Here's my beautiful mom:

Mom looking wonderful in hand-made lauhala hat. Happy Mothers Day!

The summer before high school graduation

Tawny at high school graduation, 2007

she and her dad did the college tour, a whirlwind ten days at her favorite choices: UC Davis in California, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and University of Colorado, Boulder. In the end she chose Humboldt State University in way northern California, strictly because of finances- they had a matching in-state partnership with University of Hawaii, so tuition was “affordable” (oxymoron.)

I remember that first trip to a college we’d never even visited, her entire life reduced to two suitcases, one of them duct-taped. The flight from Hawaii, whirlwind tour of San Francisco with a sister who lived there, Tawny’s excitement high—me numb with a plastic smile. Four years later I still have a picture of her I took on the carousel at Pier 49, getting dog-eared on the fridge.  That radiance that’s such a part of her fills a smile bigger than the moon, full of all the potential that’s a part of being eighteen and setting out on the great adventure we call Life.

She's never grown out of wonderfully lurid hair colors.

I drove up the 101 from San Francisco with two almost-women, my niece who was considering the school and my daughter, and after a blur of “orientation” activities, I left her for the first time in both our lives. It was a feeling of dismemberment and loss like a phantom limb. My sister-in-law, putting me up for the night on the way back to the airport, passed tissues as I told stories of her as a child and cried my eyes out like an Irishwoman at a wake.

The college is small for a California state institution, a lovely tidy campus tucked in the redwood forest near Humboldt Bay beside an eclectic village called Arcata that stole my heart with it’s colorful residents, coffee shops and lumberjack bars. Still, it really did feel irresponsible to just leave her there, like dropping off a baby in a basket on the curb of the big bad redwoods. Anything could happen, and all I had to give her was a thingie of pepper spray and a lecture about drinking enough water. (I’m a big believer in drinking water for brain function)

This turned out to be the perfect college for our outdoorsy, science-loving daughter

There were bi-annual trips bringing her home we could hardly afford but couldn’t do without. The second and only time I was able to visit Arcata, I decided I wanted to move there, heck I could even work at the college. Hawaii is overpriced anyway, and I felt ready for a change. The hubby and I looked at homes, and I talked to the clinic on campus and they offered me an interview as one of their therapists.

I told Tawny this and I’ll never forget looking into her blue blue eyes as she said, “No. No, Mom. If you come work at the college I’m leaving.”

She’d found her voice, her independence, and she was loving life. Thanks HSU! That blind, financially motivated college choice turned out to be a great move as she discovered the rowing team and a passion for science that’s led to a prestigious research fellowship with Stanford next fall.

It was me that was struggling. So I got a couple more dogs, foo-foo ones that require a lot of shampooing, brushing and affection. That helped. Worked on my marriage. That also helped. Hugged my remaining son a lot. My work and my writing filled the rest of the void.

My daughter has grown up and HSU has been the perfect school for her. We’ve done our job, we should be celebrating, and we are… but it’s been a damn fine ride, even from this far away. And I’m going to miss it all, and someday I’ll accept that I only get to see her a few weeks a year.

I’ve been spoiled because this whole time my son has lived nearby, attended community college, and worked his own computer tech business and at Jamba Juice. He’s a fun-loving, creative, affectionate and helpful part of my life, so integral I can’t really grasp that June 1 he moves away to California too.

Caleb does "Blue Steel"

What am I going to do? I think I may have to start another book series.

How have you dealt with the graduations, moves and passages of your life?

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