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Commentary: 'Last girl to go' brings mix of emotions

Roxane Salonen

During a summer vacation in Duluth several years ago, I whispered to my husband, "Wouldn't it be neat if one of the kids went to college here someday?"

Though inland, Duluth emits a coastal vibe not unlike the ocean one we enjoyed during our years in Washington state.

Later that day, as our children flitted about the jagged shoreline of Lake Superior, I sneaked a snapshot of our middle child sitting on a rock, gazing out dreamily at the vast body of water.

This moment has come to mean even more recently. By fall, that lake will be a perpetually welcoming wave to this same daughter as a college freshman.

I'm excited for her, yet my feelings have become more convoluted since I first wondered with my husband about "someday."

I'd like to fully embrace the advice of my wise friend who maintains that seeing a child off into the world should be full of jubilation, not sadness, since we prepare them their whole young lives for this moment.

But I've also found we can't always prepare for how we'll feel when the time comes.

Another friend, whose youngest son graduated this year, insisted at his party, "I'm not going to cry until fall." But from my perch at graduation, I noticed, as her son was called to receive his diploma, her face awash in tears.

And then there are the full-circle moments that catch us off guard. One happened when assisting our oldest daughter recently into her first college house as a junior. Arriving at her new abode, I suddenly realized I was facing, across the street, my first college dormitory, very near to where her dad and I met.

The next day, attending orientation with our future collegian, I felt the knots in my own stomach as the dean of students remarked, "This will be one of the biggest transitions of your child's life."

Memories of my own past ventures into the unexplored world rushed in, fresh and a bit frantic.

Despite that this isn't our first such parent-child parting, this time around seems different. She's the "last girl to go," and going further than the others. I'm both thrilled for her, and terrified with her.

Capturing another moment in time of her with my camera at orientation, standing at the base of the stone building where she'll learn Spanish and strengthen her study skills, I realized how different our lives will be soon, forever, and how much I'll miss her daily presence.

Only time will reveal to us just how her unique gifts will meld with the waiting world, and what challenges will come to shape her, but God knows each detail already and will be with her every moment — with blessing if she accepts.

It's this thought that finally turns my own threatening tears into a downpour of trusting gratitude and hope-filled joy.

Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. Email her at roxanebsalonen//