• Lydia Chu

What it was like to send my daughter off to college

I didn't think this day would ever come but sadly for me, it did. My daughter, Hannah, became a freshman at San Diego State.

Hannah in front of her dorm room

A week after we got back from a nice family vacation in Bend, Oregon, my husband and I drove our daughter, Hannah, down to San Diego to start her freshman year.

I still remember the day she was born, March 1, 2001. She was a surprise baby. After multiple miscarriages and not being able to conceive for about 5 years, it was a shock to find out that I was pregnant with my first child. After getting married in Korea where I met my first husband, we had moved back to the United States two years prior. We had just bought our first dry cleaning business and were working very hard to make a go of it. We were a brand new business owners struggling to make ends meet. The time could not have been worse but the news of the pregnancy brought us joy and gave us hope.

Hannah at 2 weeks old

Hannah was due February 28 but was born two days later. She came into this world weighing 7 lbs and 2 ounces. She was a long, skinny baby. Her dad was overwhelmed with happiness. For me, it was a mixed feeling of happiness and uncertainty. I wondered what kind of mom I would be and had doubts about my ability to be a good mom. Regardless, It didn't take too long before she became the love of my life.

Hannah was a very good baby right from the start but the times were tough for us at the time. My husband at the time and I were struggling financially and working very hard to support our new family. Since we couldn't afford to hire a baby sitter and did not have any family members nearby who could help out, we took our little baby with us when we went to work. I remember trying to breast feed her at work and kept getting interrupted by customers. I often had to leave her as she cried wanting to be fed and held. Soon, she developed a habit of sucking her fingers. I didn't know at the time but it was her way of comforting herself when I wasn't around to comfort her.

When Ally came along 19 months later, Hannah became a protective big sister who doted on her baby sister. When their dad and I got divorced when they were just six and seven years old, both of the girls were heartbroken but Hannah would always put her sadness aside to comfort her sister who would cry frequently. For me, her unconditional love gave me hope and she became the "sunshine" of my life.

In school, Hannah always excelled academically and received numerous awards for her achievements including the Outstanding Young Spokesperson of the Future presented by Veterans of Foreign Wars. She also participated in many sports including soccer and badminton. Growing up with busy, divorced parents, she matured quickly and became very independent from a very young age. She became passionate about traveling and helping others. She took her first solo trip to Spain with her school group at the age of 12 and took two more volunteer trips to Thailand and Fiji in her high school years.

Hannah was also a fast learner and was good at whatever she did. She was only about eight years old when she first started helping out at the dry cleaners I previously owned. She learned to help customers as well as helping me with the books. By the time she got to high school, she had learned the ropes of the business and worked for me regularly. I especially have fond memories of her helping me with tuxedo rentals. I could always count on her to be there when I needed her especially during the busy prom season. We were a team and I couldn't have asked for a better partner.

Hannah with her close friends at senior prom

Due to her outgoing and caring personality, Hannah didn't have any trouble making friends but when she reached high school, she struggled to fit in and to find the group of friends she felt comfortable with. By senior year, she had found great groups of friends that she could really trust, and she thrived all the while staying grounded and being compassionate toward others.

As we drove down to San Diego, I wondered whether I was going to cry. I knew I was going to miss her but to my surprise, I didn't cry. I'm not sure why. Maybe because we were all too busy getting her settled in. I couldn't help thinking what a big change this was going to be for her. Even though I was going to miss her, I was excited for her. It reminded me of my freshman year at The University of Texas at Austin. I was nervous but excited.

Hannah with her new roommates

Before we left for San Diego, she handed me a letter in an envelope. Instead of reading it right away, I put it in my bag to read it later. When I returned home, I sat in the kitchen alone and opened the letter. As I read it, tears ran down my face not out of sadness but out of relief and happiness. She thanked me for everything I had done for her. She told me how proud she was of me even when we didn't see things eye to eye. She said she'll even miss my talks about plant-based diet even though it used to drive her crazy. She also talked about the fun things that we used to do as a family like sitting around to watch American Ninja Warrior. She also said she still loves my potstickers :). It was a letter written with a sense of humor but with a genuine sincerity. I laughed and cried wishing she was there next to me so I could give her a big hug and tell her how much I love her.

Despite my imperfections as a mother, she had appreciated the way I had raised her. Her comforting words eased the guilt I felt as a mother wondering if I had been a good mother to her. Her words were mature and loving, and I couldn't have been more proud of my daughter who was ready to embark on a new exciting chapter of her life. She was proud to be my daughter and I couldn't have been more proud to be her mother.

She will always be my baby

The house is definitely quieter without her but I can still feel her presence all around me. When I walk into her room, I can still see her laying there sleeping and waking up when I go to kiss her and hearing those precious words of "I love you mom".

I miss laying next to her in her bed and cuddling with her as I stroke her hair as if she was still six years old. I even miss getting on her case about eating healthy but most of all, I miss her smile and her warm hugs that gave me so much hope when I was at the toughest time of my life. She is indeed my "sunshine" and always will be.

I'm so grateful for everything she has become and looking forward to the person she will be. Now, I must share this wonderful person with a world, and I have no doubt she will touch many lives who are lucky enough to come across her path in her journey of life.



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