R-e-a-d-y, set #x2026;; go?
NEW YORK --
It was the first day of school for the girl in the plaid dress. She posed for a photo with her hands on her hips and a confident smile. There were no tears that day, no clinging, no fretting.
"Nothing," says her mother, who still marvels at her daughter's self-assuredness as she headed to class 13 years ago. "I dropped her off and she didn't even look back."
Now the parents who let go of Alana Hamlett's hand as she strutted off to kindergarten are preparing for an even bigger step.
"Yes! I'm going to college," says Alana, who will attend Brandeis University in suburban Boston this fall.
Even before she packs her bags, Alana is finding that going to school is about more than leaving home. It is about a graceful, young woman moving toward adulthood. It is about a giddy 17-year-old redefining the close bond she has with her parents, Annie and LeFleur Barreto.
"It's that 'I kind of want my freedom' but 'you're still a child' thing," Alana says. The freedom of adulthood is "like a new toy. I want to play with it because it's just been given to me."
LeFleur fondly remembers the days young Alana waited for him to come home from work, screaming, "Daddy! Daddy!" when he'd open the door.
Psychologists and parents expect a waning in such enthusiasm, especially in the years when teens are testing the boundaries of independence. Yet LeFleur still finds himself longing for some sign that his bond with Alana, even if it's different, will last.
"Now she lights up when she talks to her friends," he says, noting the time Alana spends with her buddies -- or chatting with them via phone and computer when she is home.
Intellectually, if not always emotionally, Annie has an easier time. She's been making college shopping trips for months -- buying pillows, sheets and storage bins for Alana's dorm room.
LeFleur "has a hard time letting go," Annie says. "Maybe it will change, hit me later. But there comes a time when she has to go."
On your mark …
; Alana has been ready for months. She meets regularly with a group of incoming Brandeis freshmen from New York. She's opened her own bank account for spending money. And as her pile of dorm room furnishings grows, so does her excitement about meeting her new roommate.
Alana's eagerness to take on the world hardly surprises her parents. By age 14, her parents started letting her walk alone to the store for a newspaper. And not too much later, she was riding the subway solo -- all bits of independence handed out slowly to ensure her safety.
All the while she studied hard and earned good grades. A plaque from the National Honor Society hangs on Alana's bedroom wall along with other awards. When she wasn't studying or taking modern dance or ballet classes after school, she was earning her own spending money as an intern in the marketing offices of clothing retailer Old Navy.
The hard work, Alana says, was a means to an end -- college and a career. "I've wanted to be a lawyer since birth," she says.
Despite it all, there are days when Alana is really just a big kid. She and her mom shop together, trade clothing and snuggle while watching TV or reading. "But sometimes it's really intense, and my mother and I will disagree with each other about little things," Alana says.
When their mothers don't ease up, Alana admits that she and her friends gripe to each other and call them by their first names. But most important are her parents, to whom she credits her achievements, even if their constant watchfulness sometimes annoyed her. "They really were there for me," she says.
Mainly she'll miss the "little things" -- "like waking up when my mother turns on the light each morning -- like going to church with Daddy on Sunday mornings."
Her mother also is preparing for the break, savoring small moments with her daughter.
Soon they will part ways again, at college orientation. Unlike those walks to school last year, or that first day of kindergarten, even Alana knows this will be difficult.
"I think it'll be emotional. I'm sure I'll be crying. I think my father will cry -- definitely," she says. "And I think my mother will cry, too."