Two weeks ago, I dropped my eldest son off at college. COLLEGE. Wasn't it just yesterday I was holding him in my arms as a newborn? Apparently not, as next week, he'll be 18. Time really does fly... Even if I like to tell myself I'm still only 28!
College is a big deal. It's a big deal for the student. It's a big deal for the parents. Society seems to dictate it's a really big deal for mothers, who are expected to be a blubbering mess when they leave their "baby" at school and drive away. This seems especially expected when their kids are leaving the nest, living away from home, and far enough such that coming home on the weekends is not a viable option.
I get it. It's a right of passage for many. A ritual of sorts, when our children step over that invisible threshold from child to adult. We no longer know where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. That loss of control for many parents is frightening. I get it. We want them to succeed. We want them to have fun. We don't want them to do stupid things that get them kicked out of school or worse. We want them to survive and come home to us. And we all remember what WE did that first semester in college, right?
After 2 weeks, it seems like by society's standards, I'm not nearly emotional enough about this. I have a theory... it's called perspective. Let me explain.
I was surprised by the number of people who have asked if I was sad, both before he left and since. Did I cry? Is it going to be hard not to see him for 3 months? How am I doing without my eldest son? My "baby"? How am I doing now that it's been 2 weeks? Has it "hit" me yet? Am I sad yet?
I was taken aback on move in day, when his roommate's mother asked me how I was doing as we were moving them in. I said, "Great! I'm looking forward to a quieter and cleaner house! I'm excited for him and this adventure." She looked at me like I had 6 heads and reported she'd been crying for days. This, as she not only unpacked his things, but wanted to organize his entire room and tell him where everything should go. Crying for days?! Yikes!
My son chose an excellent school, 4.5 hours away. He won't be home until Thanksgiving. And then, it will be by train or plane because the traffic sucks to drive there from here, especially at holiday time and in the winter months. I knew this the day he started considering schools near NYC. Not a surprise. Over the summer, he worked full time, was gone on an amazing vacation for 2 full weeks on the other side of the world, and spent most evenings out with friends, so he was barely here the past few months anyway. It was good practice for letting go!
Back at the dorm, I helped him unpack some of his things, but not all of them. I made a few suggestions. We were there about an hour or so in his dorm. We met his roommates and a few other students on his floor who came by to say hi. He was sort of getting antsy, and we had a long drive home. I pulled him out into the hallway to say good-bye. I gave him a hug, told him I loved him, was proud of him, to work hard - yet have fun, try new things, and to enjoy this adventure. Today was the first day of the rest of his life, he had his wings, it was up to him to fly.
I admit, I got a little misty eyed. Yet it was not because of sadness. It was pride. It was love. It was the desperate hope in my heart that I had done the "right" things as his mother to teach him right from wrong, how to choose from a place of love and truth and not fear, to prepare him for the challenges of being a college student, an adult, to make decisions on his own and fully accept the consequences of those decisions.
And we left him there and walked away. I was happy for him, not sad for me.
In the car, my husband gave me "the look". He hugged me. He told me he was proud of our son and proud of me and how I parented him. He asked how I was. I told him I was ok. HE was the one that brought on the tears. He told me I did a good job raising him and teaching him what he needed to know for this journey. That I *was* a good mom. He reminded me my boy loved me.
My mind immediately went to my failures as a mother. I failed to keep one of my children alive. She would never get this opportunity. I would never have this moment with her. It made this moment with my eldest that much more powerful for me. It helps me to appreciate the gift that this opportunity is for him and for me. I wasn't "losing" him. I was giving him the opportunity to fly.
I told him the tears were really more about the fact the perceived "loss" of a child going off to college is so very different for a bereaved parent. Perhaps that is why I'm not as sad as everyone thinks I should be. I'm not losing him forever. He's just growing up. I want him to succeed, to grow, to learn, to make mistakes and learn from them, to become a better person, to be the change in the world. My tears were in part, those of pride, of hope, of love.
If you've followed this blog, you know his sister Meghan died nearly 12 years ago, tragically and unexpectedly. She was a brief, but powerful influence in his life. They adored each other, even though she was only with us for 3 years. He wrote about her and the influence her death had on him for his college essays.
My tears in the hallway of the dorm and in the car were those of a parent who really *knows* what loss is like. And that colored how I felt about "losing" my son to college. God willing, he'll come home at Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and spring break, and for the summer. He'll keep coming back to the nest as he passes each milestone in his life. He'll come back a changed young man. Yet he'll always be my son.
He is not "gone", he's at school. He's doing something she'll never get the chance to do. That's bittersweet. It's powerful. It's a gift. For him and for me.
I know what it's like to truly lose a child. It's hell and it's a hurt that never goes away. So going off to college is far less of a loss to a parent who knows true loss. The perspective that gives me, or any bereaved parent, impacts all other "losses" in your life.
And I suspect, if she could say anything to her brother right now, it would be "Ky-ooooole. You listen to Meggie!" Hopefully she'd add something about doing your homework, being the best you can be, and calling your mother! I kinda hope she watches over him and steers him in the right direction. I hope he realizes the amazing gift and opportunity he's been given and makes the most of it.
And Thanksgiving? Yeah. He'd damn well better plan on spending some time with his mother!
Spread your wings and soar, proud and strong, like an eagle my son. Go forth, and change the world for the better!