Junior year in college is no picnic, says mom

Junior year sucks.

I hate that word. I learned it from my children and don't tolerate their using it. Generally when it comes to talking about my kids, I prefer Yiddish like kvell, nachas, even plotz, but there's no Yiddish word that fully expresses how I feel about my daughter's junior year. So until someone gives me a substitute, "suck" will have to do.

It came to mind as I was setting the table for this year's seder. As I calculated the number of people and counted out plates, I wept. Soon there will be one less place setting at the Passover table because Morgan will be at college. I can't imagine celebrating our favorite holiday without her here.

It's been like that all year. Every holiday, birthday and anniversary reminds me: only one year more.

It may seem early to be fretting over her departure. She still has her senior year plus a couple of summers bracketing it. But I'm a deficit worrier.

I first worried about the inevitable empty nest when I was pregnant. My husband decided I must be having twins because I got so big so fast. Of course he didn't see the size of my lunches and my between-meal burritos.

"Great," he said. "If you have twins, then we'll get our two children in one pregnancy."

"Are you kidding?" I said, mentally propelling myself 18 years into the future. "I'm not having all my children leave for college at the same time."

That was theoretical. Now that I'm on the brink of it becoming a reality, it's just as bad as I thought it would be.

A friend told me her daughter was considering U.C. Berkeley. I thought of the family Shabbat dinners they could continue to have, and I cried right there in the restaurant. Morgan applied to a summer college prep program at a Midwestern university. When her letter of acceptance arrived, I wept.

I can't even fall back on my time-tested defense of denial because there are constant reminders.

Everything Morgan does this year — her choice of classes, extra-curricular activities, summer plans — is geared toward getting into a good college. Conversations revolve around college counselors, college tours, college applications and pre-college exams.

Elizabeth Shaw, a junior from Alexandria, Va., wrote an article for the May 5 issue of Newsweek detailing how awful her junior year is. Aside from the fact that being published in a national magazine will help her get into college, everything she said is true.

I watch as Morgan studies longer, works harder and gets less sleep than ever before. Everything, even things that used to be fun, translates into more pressure and stress. She miserates (her word) daily, and there's nothing I can do to make it better.

One day, out of sheer frustration, I left phone messages for a couple of her teachers. I was going to complain to one about assigning a term paper on three-weeks' notice and to another about an arbitrary policy on a quiz. These teachers aren't mothers and may not understand what they are doing to our children.

Before I got any return calls, I confessed to Morgan. The next day, she told all the teachers not to call me back.

It wasn't long ago that I was the one who made everything better for Morgan with a decorative Band-Aid or a hug or an ice cream cone. Now she takes care of most things herself.

I'm not ready for this phase of parenting to come to an end. I want to take more movies, bake Shabbat challahs like I've been meaning to and give more advice. I wish I could call a time-out so Morgan and I could catch our breath, get a good night's sleep and have a little fun together.

But when she has free time, it's not me she spends it with. Everyone says that's the way it's supposed to be.

They say junior year is to prepare students for the independence and rigors of college life. Then Morgan's on track being a good student, separating from her family and managing her life.

But it's my junior year too — to let go, redefine myself and prepare for a new, grown-up relationship with my daughter.

I can't imagine what life at home will be like when Morgan leaves. Then again, before she was born, I couldn't imagine what life would be like with a baby. I can only count on the fact that I'll adjust, like I did before.

That doesn't mean I won't cry through High Holy Day services.