The college girl.

Dear friends,

My two favorite brunettes of all time.

Some women my age would be embarrassed to admit this, but during my college years, Cosmopolitan magazine was my primary textbook. I scoured every issue and took its advice seriously. I thought Helen Gurley Brown was it, and I longed for a career as glamorous as hers.

My views have changed considerably since then — though my appreciation for independent, outspoken women has never waned. So I was sorry to hear Ms. Brown died yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 90.

From her NY Times obit, I learned a story about HGB that had never before caught my attention. Chiefly, that her mother sent the legendary Cosmo editor a telegram just before her best-selling (and career-making) book, “Sex and the Single Girl,” was published. In it, her mother wrote: Dear Helen, if you move very quickly, I think we can stop publication of the book.”

I cringed when I read it. I never want to be that mother, I thought. The naysayer. The second-guesser. The older woman dispensing one generation’s advice to a younger generation for whom the old rules don’t apply.

Lord knows I’ve been dispensing plenty of advice in the last few days as Kate prepared to go to college. Everything from where to buy the cheapest textbooks, to how to get answers from college administrators, to why it’s important to thoroughly read the syllabus.

In the end (where end equals Sunday night, time for mom to go home already), I simply had to zip my lip and walk away.  And, yeah, I walked away with tears in my eyes, trying hard not to make eye contact with the girl who wouldn’t be helped by a tearful goodbye. I left her among her friends and contemporaries, where I hope she will find the space and the encouragement for her unique voice to develop and her dreams to flourish, which is the only thing I ever hoped college would offer her.

I told her to call me if she needs me. (I know she won’t hesitate because barely two hours after I departed, she called to ask where I had put the Q-tips that I unpacked. I’m not sure if I’ll be more or less relieved if her next call for help is about a matter of more consequence.) I told her I loved her. I told her I was proud of her.

And then I drove six hours home, where a new adventure awaits me, too. (Just as soon as I stop crying. Kiddingnotkidding.)

With gratitude {for the strongest, smartest, kindest college girl a mother could hope for},

Joan, who finds it odd that the mother who breezed through Kate’s first day of Kindergarten had to look away or burst into tears while buying last-minute dorm supplies at Wal-Mart on Saturday (Who knew separation at 19 was harder than 5?)



  1. But you know her so much better at 19 than you did at 5. You know what a remarkable woman she is. You realize how much you will miss her presence in your daily life. Not just because she’s your daughter and you love her, but because of who she is. (I’m not expressing myself very well this morning. I hope you know what I mean.)
    I’m wishing you and Kate the best as you both embark on your new adventures.

  2. It was when the baby of the family left – and she went cross country – that it sank all the way in. Our nest was literally emptied. However it wasn’t until the first time I watched her stride away from a security gate to board a plane from our local airport to return to school that I really felt quite desolate. Dropping her off there wasn’t nearly as tricky somehow as watching her leave here.

    And no, she did not look back, and yes, I watched her as long as I could just to make sure I’d be smiling and waving if she did.

  3. I remember Mom and Dad leaving me in Lottie Jane Mabee Hall Room 101 with my new St. Louis roommate. Dorms were rustic in those days. One communal phone. Crank-out casement windows for air conditioning. Mail cubbies in the front office annex. It was like camp with grades and Division 1 football. The movie soundtracks of that magical autumn in 1973 were “American Graffiti” and “The Way We Were.” Kate will look back in 40 years and remember this threshold (and your advice on how to get answers from college administrators — I loved that one……).

  4. bungalow56 says:

    Thinking of you.

  5. Thanks to all of you for the kind expressions. I promise it helps.

    Jen — I totally get what you mean and I had never thought of it that way. But it’s precisely because of the wonderful young woman that Kate has become that I miss her so much.

    M’del — I was the quintessential commuter student (living in North Tulsa with my divorced Dad). Except for one week in the winter of 1984 with a record snowfall (during which I bunked with a girl in my sorority house), I never had the luxury of an on-campus dwelling. Just hearing the name Lottie Jane makes me wax nostalgic. And I’m loving that I made you chuckle. You KNOW I know how to get answers from administrators. All my years of experience won’t be for naught if it helps Kate successfully navigate the bureaucracy just once.

    Deb and Dana — I appreciate your thoughtful words.

  6. Hey Joan. I’ll always be grateful I lived in Lottie Jane. My room didn’t look nearly as chic as Kate’s, but I had a Picasso “Don Quixote” print on the wall and a bottle of “Charlie” on my desk…. You have given Kate a SERIOUS advantage with that insider info on bureaucracy busting in the halls of academe!

  7. That must be so hard. I can only imagine leaving your baby girl to fend for herself even if you did an exceptional job raising her. Big hug.

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