For months, perhaps even for years, I had been composing in my mind the letter I was going to write to my daughter before she left for college. I wanted to fill it with wonderful memories and maternal wisdom, with practical advice and big doses of encouragement.
I wanted to tell her that from the moment she was born, she’s been my truest friend and my greatest teacher. That her spirit inspires me, her strength sustains me, and her dancing makes me smile. That my abiding prayer is for her to be healthy, safe, strong, confident and happy, always.
As the day grew nearer, a sense of urgency began to swell up inside me. Had I given her a strong enough foundation in values, Islam, and family? How would she deal with the pressures of dating and drinking that she was able to circumvent in high school? Would she remember the three promises she had made to me– to eat healthfully, to sleep regularly, and to never take chances with her safety?
And I worried about how I would cope without seeing her each day; without knowing exactly how she was doing, even if she said everything was ok. Friends reassured me that she was close by and that regular visits would be easy, that soon she’d be home for breaks and holidays. But that’s not it. The dull ache in your heart comes not from worrying that you won’t see your child, but from realizing that they are no longer truly yours. You understand what a precious gift you have been given by God, to love and nurture and teach and grow. And when they leave, as they must, your all-consuming prayer is that you’ve done enough.
I wanted to capture some of these sentiments in a letter, but each time I tried to put pen to paper, the emotions were too overwhelming, the words too meager for all I wanted to say. My daughter must have sensed my paralysis, because the night before she left for college, she wrote me a letter instead.
Tomorrow is move in day. The day our Toyota hauls my pillows and jeans and colored pens and not so colored wardrobe to an anonymous address, then a few hours later drives away leaving me in a big new city to grow up and figure it out. That day. The day that I have to wake up at 5:30 am and be accountable for myself. The day that marks my needing to make sure I get to class on time, eat three reasonably decent meals a day, and budget so I don’t spend more in a day than the cost of two Starbucks, which I would have spent last week without blinking.
I need you to know Ma, that I have your rules committed to memory and that I will be ok. I know that this is a big city in a big world where there are mean people and scary things, and that despite having experienced a city that has been more Gossip Girl than 24, I can do this.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m not nervous. I am nervous. Very. But by the same subway token, that nervousness doesn’t mean that I’m not ready. I am ready. I need you to have faith in me.
You and papa will always be the most important figures in my life. You are my role model; papa my best friend. I will always be your ‘sunshine’ and ‘papa’s little pearl’. Nothing means more to me than what you think and how you feel, and that’s why I’m crying as I write this at 12:37 am.
I love you so so much, but I need to grow up on my own. This is going to be hard. I have a debilitatingly strong conscience so I’m going to have to force myself not to call home when I don’t make it to class or when I spend too much for lunch.
I might stay out late or stay in when I should be out, I may push people away and I may trust someone I shouldn’t, I may get lost, I may fail a test, I may judge too quickly, I may even kiss a boy.
I know I’ll make mistakes, and I’ll learn from them, and this is the time to do that. I’m a good kid. I really am. I have a strong conscience and belief in God. I will do my best. Trust me. I can do this. We can do this.
She is right. We can do this. Inshallah.
Salma Hasan Ali is a writer, blogger, and Contributing Editor of The Islamic Monthly