After all of the months of planning, purchasing, and prepping, I never thought I’d end up sending my daughter off to college with pens and pads acquired from the great Hurricane Hilton Homewood Hotel Tour of 2020 as opposed to the carefully selected supplies from all of the online suggested lists. Things don’t always work out like you plan though and sometimes you’re better for it. Growing isn’t always comfortable.

How 2020 that she’ll be the only one of us in stable housing for a while and starting her college experience 11 hours from home without ever having returned home from our evacuation due to Hurricane Laura. With all of the strength I could muster, I sent her off with a final bag of necessities – box of Kleenex and dish detergent courtesy of the Homewood Suites. She’ll be fine, and we’ll send things piecemeal as we’re able. We’ll also learn what’s truly needed and what was just fluff after all. I worry that in a new place surrounded by new people and ideas, those new clothes from Target just won’t do the trick. She doesn’t feel like herself, and I don’t want anything about her to change. I told her how proud I was of her and that the most difficult things in my life have made me who I am today so she deserves that experience too. I swelled with pride and pent up emotions that escaped my eyes, rolled down my cheeks, and fell to my chest further just adding to the stains of my fourth outfit in my evacuation rotation. We hugged and I kissed her forehead and sent her off in her new spirit shirt from the sale rack at the student bookstore. As I pulled away and watched her walk up that hill to all of the opportunity that awaits, I felt like a vulnerable teen again leaving a piece of me behind.

I believe in signs that sometimes come as a whisper and sometimes flash like a thunderbolt before you. My son spent the last few months of COVID building and planting a new garden. That’s our thing. We’re gardeners now. We’re learning and killing things along the way, but the beauty is there as well. We slowed down and finally stopped to smell the roses. Laura came along a week ago and decimated Lake Charles and the surrounding areas as the worst storm on record. Trees were toppled and houses were destroyed yet we got word that our little scrawny magnolia that we’d snagged from the sale section had survived and was completely unscathed. We rejoiced, and at least one of the kids and maybe a grandmother as well suggested that we should all get magnolia tattoos in honor of our little standing tree. See, it was FLEXIBLE. It was well cared for and well planted but what mattered most was that it bent when nearly Cat 5 winds uprooted and twisted stately sturdy hardened trees. Every shingle blew off of the roof, the fence is flipped and the sturdy mature Bradford Pears lost their limbs and split at their trunks because they didn’t.

As I was driving away today I got my sign. Just as the magnolia standing in the midst of our devastation back home, Jane Claire would as well in Nashville. The sign was there. As I pulled away and off of the new campus for her to start this next chapter, I looked up through the tears and saw the street sign at the edge of campus. MAGNOLIA BOULEVARD. She’s going to mature and remember to remain flexible through the strongest of storms because that’s how she’ll thrive. My Steel Magnolia.