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My Daughter Is Leaving for College and I'm the One Who Gained the Freshman 15

Two weeks before her daughter leaves for college, this woman realizes how she's coping

Published on: August 14, 2018

Woman on bathroom scale

In the days following the 2016 election, I did not stress-eat (or drink), despite the fact that I am a lifelong bleeding-heart liberal. I managed to keep my composure and process my feelings by writing, marching, organizing.

In the weeks before my oldest daughter leaves for college, I can’t say I’ve dealt with my angst the same way.

Every pair of shorts I own are too tight in the waistband and last night when I was changing into my nightgown and caught a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror, I was shocked at the pouch on my belly that didn’t used to be there. Instead of channeling my energies outward, I’ve gained the dreaded “freshman 15.” 

I didn't realize what was happening

At first, I didn’t know that I was losing my composure. The first inkling came as I sat in a dark movie theater and sobbed in to my popcorn at the animated short that played before "The Incredibles 2."

The short, "Bao," is told from the perspective of a mother who mourns as her son grows up, makes friends, and moves out in to the world. I cried as my youngest daughter sat next to me quietly wiping away her own tears. We were both feeling it — anticipating the loss of her sister, Erin — but we didn’t dare make eye contact for fear of ugly crying in public. 

I know Erin’s excited, and I am terribly thrilled, too. This is what we’ve worked for — the opportunities and adventures that await and the new friendships with people she’ll know for the rest of her life. But as a mom, I wonder what will happen the first time Erin gets really sick and I’m a five-hour plane ride away.

The mom in me wonders what will happen the first time she gets really sick and I’m a five-hour plane ride away.

The thought of her piano sitting idle in the basement for months on end is unnerving. Her friends won’t crowd the kitchen counter, reaching in to snag a handful of chips or grapes, and telling tall tales about each other on any random weeknight. 

How I'm coping

I’m sad, and it turns out I’m eating (and drinking) my feelings. I rationalized it in the beginning. It’s summer, and everyone drinks a little more in the summer, don’t they? Neighborhood barbecues with ice cold rosé are a near-weekly event. But some nights now I pour myself a glass or two even if it’s just the girls and me eating grilled cheese sandwiches at the breakfast bar. 

Everyone indulges their sweet tooth a little more in the summer, right? Especially during one of the hottest summers on record, especially when artisan popsicle stands abound at the farmer’s market and new, hipster ice cream shops are popping up on every corner. 

So what if I’ve found myself staying up later and later, binge-watching new series and snacking on tortilla chips and salsa? It’s hot, and instead of tossing and turning in bed to the drone of a fan, I choose to watch a little TV. And eat. 

All of a sudden, it’s two weeks until we leave. We are making lists of things she needs for her dorm, downloading information on campus health insurance and ordering her books online, and I’m indulging every night. I used to allow myself either wine or dessert, but that rule is long gone. Some nights I do both simultaneously, sipping wine while I eat a bowl of berry cobbler and watch TV.

And then there was last night.

What happened

I went to the grocery store at 9:30 p.m. to get the makings for hot fudge sundaes. Even as I tried to justify it by noting that two of the three of us were having our periods, I knew I was crossing a line. I never buy half-gallon tubs of ice cream unless it’s for someone’s birthday party because I don’t want that much ice cream in my house.

And when I do buy ice cream, it’s organic. And I buy the expensive, organic hot fudge sauce without high fructose corn syrup, and I whip my own cream. Not because I’m a snob, but because if I put those kind of limits on myself, it’s a lot less likely that I’ll succumb to the craving for a hot fudge sundae at home — it’s too expensive and too much work. 

But last night, I bought a half-gallon of not-organic French vanilla and the cheapest hot fudge sauce on the shelf along with a can of ReddiWhip. At 10 p.m., we had hot fudge sundaes, my daughter quiet and solemn because she didn’t want to break the spell and remind me that I was doing all the things I said I’d never do for fear that I’d suddenly swipe it all in to the trash can.

When our bowls were empty, she stole a glance at me, lifted the can of whipped cream, tipped her head back, and shot some in her mouth for good measure. Sigh.

Today, I went online and asked my group of mom-friends what I should buy at the grocery store if I were (hypothetically) going to eat my feelings about my daughter going across the country for college in two weeks.

To a woman, they said ice cream. A few added hot fudge to the list. And then others chimed in to remind me that adding something salty to cut the sweet was a really good idea — pretzels or those super-thin potato chips where the ratio of salt to potato is close to 1:1.

I can’t believe I forgot the potato chips. 

And I really wonder how I’m gonna lose this freshman 15. 

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