A Hundred Pairs of Socks

The winter of 2008, we got the letter that my daughter, my first born, was accepted into the University of Michigan, three and a half hours away from home. She would be seventeen in the fall of 2009, when she would start her adult life away from home. Compared to mine, this was early. I lived at home through college, and my first job, until the day I got married--which is the norm for most Indians growing up in the 90s India. I had misgivings.

But I wasn't truly sad about her imminent leaving the nest.

Her senior year of high school was spent with a passion to make every moment count. I made it a point to have lunch with her most weeks on Fridays. Our favorite haunt was Greek's Pizza, where I had the pasta and all she had was their breadsticks, dripping garlic butter. I bit my tongue and didn't tell her that she really should be eating a healthier lunch.

We laughed a lot during those lunches. She talked to me in a teasing manner, like my son does most of the time. She took to calling me "dawg", which I loved. Something about it being the last year at home seemed to have knocked down some of the walls between us.

Her senior year was not when I felt sad that I'd soon be losing her to the real world.

We went to the Fashion mall at Keystone a lot that year, just the two of us. We mostly window-shopped. We especially loved to go into the Williams Sonoma store just to sample whatever delicious stuff they had. A stop at the Godiva store was a must, and she always got a drink called Dark Chocolate Decadence.

We discussed, for the first time, her views on religion ("agnostic theist") during those trips to the mall. I had no idea she had thought about religion. We are not ritualistic Hindus. Aside from the annual Diwali party with the entire desi diaspora living in our Mid-western town, and very confusing Christmases we celebrated with a lit up, gifts laden tree, but no church service, my children had not had a proper exposure to any religion, let alone Hinduism.

I was amazed by these conversations.

During weekday evenings, sometimes she and I would watch a favorite movie (Sleepless in Seattle, Beauty and the Beast). She would snuggle up to me as she had when she was a baby.

I was fine then. No tears.

When people asked how I felt about her leaving for college, I told them I was dreading it, even though secretly, I wasn't. The previous two years had been stressful, with a lot of fights between us, tears shed, doors slammed (at one point I even threatened we would have her door removed). I had started questioning if she and I would ever like each other again. I knew we would always love each other, but being around each other was getting a bit rough. But we both declared a temporary truce during her senior year and were both secretly glad there would soon be a separation. (I wondered why I never fought with my mom at her age. Was I the abnormal one?)

No, I definitely wasn't sad about her going away.

And then the day finally came when we had to take her to college.

My first born, the one whom I had desperately longed for--a little girl to love and to love me.

The one with whom my bonding was instant. The one who recognized my voice and touch when she was barely two weeks of age.

The one who filled me with a pain I have never experienced before or since during her first three colicky months with her sorrowful, almost soulful crying.

The one who almost never cried and was a joy to be around and a happy child the rest of her first 12 months.

The one who had to grow up in a hurry, when her brother was born. She was still a baby, not quite two years old.

The one who consoled me, with compassion beyond her age, with an endearment I used for her, when she and I were involved in an accident. She was about 15 months old.

And so we went, to Ann Arbor.

I was cool on the way, almost numb. Still not shedding any tears. I started to question my own love for her. Shouldn't I be weeping?

We met her roommate, and her dad and brothers, and my husband took the required pictures.

Then she started to unpack her things. I wasn't allowed to comment on the number of clothes she had brought, or the shoes or the handbags. (Our most acrimonious clashes were on the state of her room and the size of her wardrobe.)

But then came the socks. She had brought a lot of socks - and I mean, a lot. Cute, playful, vibrant socks in summer colors. She has the prettiest feet. I remember feeing a rising sense of panic, and other emotions I could not label, overwhelming me with an intensity I could not control.

Apparently, that's when it happened.

I don't remember much of that first time when she went away to college.

That is, until recently. When we made the happy trip to Ann Arbor this April to celebrate her graduation, her roommate's mother (the same roommate from her freshman year, with whom she shares a house now) did the honors. We were having brunch at her house. My daughter and her roommate had taken care of the brunch--they had ordered from Panera weeks before and all we had to do was show up.

"So, the girls tell me you lost it over her socks."

Eyes rolled and much snickering ensued.

I still don't understand why the socks were the undoing of me. Was it because I felt I had not prepared her to live in the real world? Who brings a hundred pairs of socks to a dorm room the size of nostrils? Was it the size of them, reminding me of her baby socks? Was I terrified about how she was ever going to have time to study, with all the laundry she would have to do? How was she going to carry her laundry down four floors? What if she didn't have enough quarters? Was I panicking that she would get attacked by someone in the laundry room? Or on her way to the library? Would she remember the way to her classes?

May be it was all of these, and more. Maybe it was the fact that my own college life consisted of catching a bus every day with friends, sitting in the same class room every day for 4 hours, and coming home every evening to mom's home-cooked meals. And here I was sending my first born out of the house, when she was barely 17, with no skills that I felt I had imparted for her to thrive in the grown up world.

I will never know why I fell apart at the socks. It won't change the fact I was kicked out of her dorm room until she was done unpacking, or the fact that I will always be known as the mom who lost it over socks.

But the comment from her roommate's mom reminded me of how far my beautiful daughter had come. She did figure out everything about college and graduated with flying colors. She didn't get lost on her way to class. She had arranged lunch for us, without me telling her to! She takes her car for periodic oil changes and tire rotation.

There's also a huge change in our relationship. We don't fight as much anymore. She regularly calls me for advice and recipes. She calls me on her way to class. I have taken to asking for her opinion and advice on my girlfriend troubles, and relationships. She has a much cooler, infinitely more logical and practical head on her shoulders than I did at her age.

When she visits, we still get into minor arguments, and there are some topics and areas that are strictly off limits, but for the most part, we have learned relearned to enjoy each other's company.