The Message is Clear; Daughter Back Safely

My eyelids get heavier by the moment, but there's no way I'm turning out the light to fall asleep.

It's 10:30 on a Sunday night, a good 30 minutes past the time I expected to hear from my daughter that her plane had landed. She spent the weekend in Florida with her grandparents, enjoying a brief reprieve from dorm life and winter weather.

The trip was wonderful, except for the parts where she had to travel. Between flight delays, surly airline employees and storm fronts, she had her fill of stress. Plus, I forgot to tell her to have cash on hand for a snack on the plane. ("They charge for pretzels? What is our world coming to?")

Once on the ground, she still has an hourlong ride back to campus with a car service. I want to be sure she's safely on her way before I let myself doze off.

Instead of a reassuring phone call, my cell phone beeps to tell me I have a text message: "My phone keeps cutting out and I'm on the verge of crying."

Sure enough, when I try to call her to find out what's going on, I can't connect.

Text messages will have to suffice. Of course, texting isn't designed for those of us past a certain age — the age when you have to hold the phone an arm's length away to read the tiny words on the minuscule screen.

I pull out my reading glasses to send my reply: "Don't cry. Are u on the way back to school?"

In cryptic messages I learn that the car service hired to meet Katie at the airport didn't show, leaving her no alternative but to hire a regular taxi to drive her the 50-plus miles to her rural campus. The cost is $50 more than she normally would pay. She's exhausted and stressed from a long night of travel and flight delays.

Tears seem inevitable.

I decide to tag along with her via texts for the ride to school. I send positive messages such as "I'm proud of you for handling this so well" and, "You'll be back in your dorm in no time," but really I'm staying in contact with her because I'm scared for her safety.

Don't be ridiculous. Of course I didn't tell her this.

She may figure it out, though, when I ask, "Does the driver seem to know the way?" and "Are you getting closer to school?" I think about asking for the name and state taxi ID number of her chauffeur but decide that might set off a full-fledged panic attack on her part.

Instead I ask, "Is the driver nice?" She tells me he seemed kind and understanding as she explained the various travel mishaps that plagued her trip.

Maybe it's the headlines lately that have me on edge — stories of disappearing coeds and unthinkable, unpredictable acts of violence on campuses. When I read the news accounts, my stomach knots and my heart breaks for the parents just like my husband and me who send their children off to experience the challenge and excitement of college life, only to lose their beloved students to senseless, inexplicable tragedy.

Not that any of us can protect our children at every moment. I could no more assure Katie's safety if she were living at home and commuting to the college in our town than I can via text messages three states away, but somehow the distance adds to the sense that she's more vulnerable … that I'm more vulnerable.

We spend an hour sending messages back and forth, reassuring each other as the miles pass. When she finally reaches the edge of town, her phone works again and she calls to let me know she's nearly there. We talk about her trip as the cab makes its way up the hill to the road near her dorm.

Minutes later, my cell phone beeps again with a final text for the night: "Hey! I'm in my room and getting on p.j.s. Thanks for staying up with me. I love you."

It's the text message every college parent craves these days, and I know I'm blessed to get it.

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