WAYNE, Neb. | Taylor Jaster and her mother, Bridget Voter, sport matching Wayne State College black T-shirts on Friday, the day 698 freshmen are dropped off at the college by parents.
Oh, there are slight design differences. Jaster's T-shirt identifies her as a member of the "WSC Class of 2018." Voter's T-shirt classifies her in this manner: "Wildcats Mom."
Jaster picks up the shirt for her mother in March. Mom wears it for the first time on Friday, a day she approaches with excitement and dread.
Parents, if you've been there, you know this drill. Seems like yesterday a nurse measures and weighs your teeny, tiny jumble of noise and curiosity. You take her to kindergarten five or six years later and put on the strong front, assuring her with hug and kiss that everything's fine in a room that teems with ABCs and 123s.
Thirteen years zip past.
Voter laughs about the drill, admitting she shed hundreds of tears in May as her oldest child donned cap and gown for her graduation from Akron-Westfield High School.
Jaster, 18, settles on Wayne State and its psychology program about the time she buys Mom her T-shirt. The student and the young adult in her knows this day is coming. The daughter in her knows it, too. Mom? Same thing applies.
Despite reams of advice on the topic, and the fact you've had friends go through this, you can't fully prepare for this seminal moment in the life of parent and child. That day -- and its tears -- come Friday in the Wayne State College Student Center during a time the college calls, "Lunch & Last Goodbyes."
"It's amazing how 18 years goes so fast," Voter says, eyes reddening. "This is my first and only daughter."
She rubs her daughter's arm and talks about requesting Martina McBride's "My Daughter's Eyes" eight days ago at a wedding reception. The song helps her reflect. Parents need that.
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Mother and child work until 3 a.m. Friday packing. They sleep three hours before rising at 6 a.m. for the 75-minute drive south to a whole new world, one of 3,356 students who start the academic year on Monday. They're met in Wayne by Voter's parents, Darwin and Bernie Jaster, of Columbus, Neb.
"Taylor knew Wayne State was right in the middle of Columbus and Akron," Bernie Jaster says with glee. "She knew what she was doing!"
Though not far from her family, this college freshman knows it's time to stand independently. Just feet from a counselor's booth designed to look like Lucy's working quarters in the Peanuts comic strip, Taylor Jaster dispenses wisdom: "Just because you're going away, it doesn't mean your support system is gone."
In the distance, a freshman buries her face in her Wayne State T-shirt, wiping tears. A classmate shakes his father's hand and gives his mother a hug. One mom arranges next week's work near Wayne, just in case a "drop in" visit is necessitated.
Yet another member of this Class of 2018 heads to his room as his mom and dad make one last dash for detergent. They'll be back in 30 minutes, they promise.
Bridget Voter won't.
She composes herself, whispers in her daughter's ear and hugs her. She hangs on for 20 seconds, an embrace bordering on long in this setting; balloons and music, noise and curiosity.
"Remember, Grandma always has her cell phone!" Bernie Jaster hollers.
Taylor Jaster laughs. She sniffs and wipes her tears. Taking a breath, she turns and departs. She walks a hallway, destined for a freshman orientation session.
She might be alone, but she's not by herself. Mom and Grandma say she never will be.