For the last four years our family has been going through a well-rehearsed but unpleasant ritual on a regular basis: the leaving of college-age children. They leave after summer break, again in the winter then spring, and after Eid holidays. They depart for other countries to attend universities, internships and summer courses.
How excited I was when our first child got accepted into college! After months of research, accumulation of certificates and often emotional negotiations, the choice was made. Living arrangements sorted out, stuff purchased for the dorm. A series of celebratory dinners and familial gatherings were over and the auspicious day had arrived.
Suddenly, it didn’t all seem so fabulous to me.
My son moved to a university in another Emirate to study architecture. Although just an hour drive away, I thought the world had come to an end. All week long, I waited for the weekend impatiently. I called almost daily. On the weekends I baked large chocolate cakes, lasagna, jam and peanut butter crepes and his other favorites. He loaded them into his car in plastic containers, among other paraphernalia I forced upon him. Months later, he would sheepishly admit that even after inviting his college mates over for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even though he loved the food, he had to throw away the leftovers.
At first, I felt wounded and rejected. Entire Saturdays slaving over a stove went unacknowledged, worse yet, uneaten. Gradually, his visits home trickled down to a few hours or a quick dinner somewhere in town, closer to his dorm. He had things to do, projects to submit, papers to write and friends to see. My attempts to force food upon him and his poor roommates grew less urgent. Childishly, I pined after my unreturned plastic containers, my expensive Tupperware. I wanted him to ask for the crepes again. I missed our long discussions about the rap songs he wrote, the state of the world, the mutually watched movies that we dissected in detail.
A year after he started University, my daughter was accepted into a Medical program at Cornell, Qatar Campus. After the initial euphoria, I secretly started hoping that she would change her mind. Maybe, choose a college in Dubai where we could continue as before. We could go to breakfasts at Paul’s together, get our nails done together and listen to terribly loud music in the car together. Maybe, she would stay and I could cuddle up with her at night, interrupting her Facebook conversations with her friends. Maybe we could still go out late at night while the house slept, for a guiltily enjoyed burger and fries.
Maybe it won’t be so bad. Qatar was close after all, only a 40-minute flight. I contrived plans about seeing each other every month. I could visit her over the weekend and she would be overjoyed to see me, drop whatever she was doing. Maybe I could hang out with her best friends whom I love and wish to adopt.
She is a senior now. We did do much flying in the beginning. I visited often. I did not hang out with her friends though. I stayed with family who live in Qatar and my daughter visited when she wasn’t busy studying or working at her part-time job.
These days the kids visit us. Sometimes, when everyone’s schedules allow we even take a vacation together as a family. But there are six of us, so one on one time is harder to find.
My third child is on his way to university in a year as well. On many occasions, I have threatened to send him to a military school far away, but I will miss him with a fierceness bestowed on those special children who tug at your heart a little bit more. Maybe it’s due to his naivety or his vulnerability. Who will drive me insane with the mess, the dirty clothes, the broken curfews and daily arguments over taking out the trash? Who will tease me and make me laugh then? Just because he knows it will.
Once he leaves, I will have my 10-year-old daughter at home. There is still some time before I start worrying about her university plans. Guiltily, I must admit that I hold on to her more possessively than the others.
For when she leaves, what will I do?