Part 1: August 27, 2014
So I’m aboard a plane taking me home, which is 1,000 miles away from where I just left my firstborn child to spend the better part of the next four years. Of course we’ve always dreamed—expected, even—that he would go to college. Of course we’re thrilled that he chose to attend a college that fits his academic and personal interests so well. Of course I should be ecstatically happy. So why do I feel like my heart has been ripped out?
This transition is not easy. We mothers confront most of our children’s transitions more gradually: Along a continuum, our infant becomes a baby becomes a toddler becomes a child. During the teenage years, we may long for the days when little feet would come pitter pattering down the hall to our bedrooms, soft, warm bodies would climb into bed and snuggle beside us, and sweet little voices would command, “Read.” What we wouldn’t give for one last chance to read The Hungry Caterpillar to a pajama-clad four-year-old. And, given the chance, we swear we wouldn’t secretly skip a single page.
All those changes happen so gradually, but leaving this boy/man at college is such an abrupt and final change that it sent me positively reeling. How did we get here so soon? I reflect on his life like a fast-moving flip book of still photos and can’t fathom that my precious child will never live in my home the same way again. He’ll be home for holidays and summers. It isn’t as though my parenting is over. And yet….
There were moments after our farewell when I felt faint, as though I needed support to stand. Catatonically, I walked through the airport and somehow made it onto this flight. Intellectually, I know it’s all good, and I’m hardly the first mom to go through this. My close friends and I have been exchanging updates throughout this whole process: “We’re at Bed Bath and Beyond now!” “Here’s a picture of her dorm room all set up!” So at least I know I’m not some kind of freak. I just didn’t expect something so wonderful to be so deeply painful at the same time.
Part 2: May 14, 2015
So I’m aboard a plane taking me back to pick up my former baby/toddler/child/teenager/college freshman, who is now a newly minted sophomore. All that stuff that seemed like such a Big Deal nine months ago? It really was. And it really wasn’t. The extra long sheets so lovingly selected from Bed Bath and Beyond? They had a way of slipping off the bed, and even though I wasn’t there to fix them or buy a better set, he slept. The food in the dining hall that looked so good on the tour? He hated it, and even though I wasn’t there to cook his favorite meals or buy his favorite snacks, he ate. I confess, I spent the better part of autumn pining for him and worrying about things well beyond my control, living for the nights he would carve out time to Skype with us. When we went to the airport to pick him up for Thanksgiving, like an apparition, he was there. Only he was real, in the flesh, my precious one delivered safely home to me!
But the drama waned.
While he was home for spring break, after months of wistfully setting the table for three instead of four, I forgot to set him a place one night. I stopped gazing longingly at the empty room with the untouched bed and walked past like its vacancy was normal, because it was. Which doesn’t mean I’m not eager to bring him home for the summer. It’s just a whole new phase. One that came far too quickly but now just feels right. I don’t really want a 19-year-old crawling into my bed asking me to read The Hungry Caterpillar. But if he asked, I would.
When I wrote Part 1 of this blog post, my emotions were so raw that it seemed inappropriate for my professional website. My business is about you and your child, not me and mine. But now, nearly nine months later and with Part 2 complete, I felt ready to share. I hope this helps other parents cope with the complex mix of emotions associated with sending a much-loved child to college.