Although it’s commonplace for millions of parents to send their kids off to college each fall, the departure is anything but typical. In fact, sending one’s child away to school is, on so many levels, profound, especially when it’s the youngest child to leave the nest.
In my case, since I went through this process last year with my older son, it would appear I’d be better prepared than most moms. In some ways I was, mainly in knowing what items he’d need for the transition and having a semblance of understanding that this goodbye would be hard. Still, as each child is unique, so is their college journey and a mom’s response to it.
As with any event– from my older son’s birth and beyond–I planned ahead, especially with mourning his college departure. Weeks before, after everyone went to bed, I strolled down memory lane. I cried mountains of tears so that when I finally hugged him goodbye, I was so emotionally exhausted, only a few lingering drops fell. I admit to some waterworks relapses on the drive home and days, then months, after.
I was consoled having my younger son in high school, still at home. I felt the same comfort after my older son started kindergarten while my younger son remained at home. Then, once both transitioned into kindergarten– and then middle and high school–I felt the impact. I was more emotional and reflective of the sonic pace of time and how quickly my boys were becoming men.
As the finality of summer came, instead of draining myself emotionally in contemplation of what was to come, as I had with my older son, I redirected my thoughts to something or someone else each time my son’s departure came into mind. Once we were packed and on the road, I reached my arm out to him from the passenger side of the car. He grabbed my hand and I shared some of my feelings of the love and joy I’ve experienced as his mom and my confidence he was going to do amazing at school and change the world for the better! Of course, a few wayward tears streamed down my face, tears I quickly brushed away.
Although I tried to keep busy, my thoughts wandered. My home became eerily QUIET with noise of yesteryears. In order to focus, I decided to put my “to do list” together for work and home. Since my boys are voracious eaters, I often go food shopping several times a week, after my work appointments–at whichever supermarket is nearby.
This time, I stood frozen in the Stop & Shop entryway, mentally reviewing some shopping adjustments I had to make. “Remember,” I reminded myself, “No more family size packages of meat, no jumbo bags of snacks, no gallons of milk and no need to buy anything in bulk.”
As I continued into the next isle, I keeled over when I saw the familiar, flaming red box of “Cheez-It Hot & Spicy, crackers” one of my son’s favorite snacks. I wasn’t expecting to stand there crushed like the empty “Cheez-It” boxes my son tried to hide beside his bed, as he often didn’t follow the house rule of “no eating in your bedroom.”
Sobbing, I leaned into the row of boxes shielding my face from onlookers passing by, often moms with kids in their carts.
“Mommy, MOMMY, can I have a treat…..PLEASE…” I heard one little boy plead.
I thought, “Wasn’t it just yesterday that my boys were that little in MY shopping cart, asking for all different snacks as I rushed to redirect them down the aisle?
I took a few deep breathes and gathered my composure before grabbing my keepsake box of “Cheez-Its” and redirecting myself towards the check-out. Once I got into my car, I had a good cry. I realized I have to face many changes now in the way I experience the world since my youngest child finished high school.
There is a changing of the guards, so to speak, and the beginning of a new era with guidelines I’ll have to become accustomed to including:
- A different way of food shopping and cooking, especially controlling my portion size.
- Accepting the fact that the school bus will never be dropping anyone off at my home again.
- Helping our dog accept this each time she hears the bus doors open two blocks away, sits and waits–before dragging me down the street when it arrives on our block. I will continue to comfort her as she forlornly looks up at me– as if I ate her bone–when my boys are nowhere in sight when we race home.
- Accepting I no longer will be attending local events for MY kids including: Back to School Night, sporting events, band performances, and award dinners.
- Experiencing an overwhelming amount of emotion passing by or frequenting places my children used to go or accompany us to on a regular basis. It will feel strange, for example, going out to our favorite restaurants where the hostess asks, “How many will it be?” and I automatically say, “Four, no three, NO TWO.” In the same fashion, setting places for a table commonly seating your entire family, now will have empty spaces.
- Acknowledging we can no longer blame our kids for messes and lost items. This is especially true of my husband who thinks my kids are often the culprits. A few days ago, while my husband was engrossed in his work, I asked my husband if he saw one of my notebooks. With his eyes glued to his computer screen, he perfunctorily answered, “Maybe Natalia took it.” “Our dog!,” I retorted at the ridiculousness of such a statement. My husband gazed at me, recognized the absurdity of such a response and joined in the laughter.
- Accepting it’s hard to “let go.” The child, who just last year, had to raise his hand to use the men’s room or ask to leave the high school building, now must navigate life, manage his schedule, do laundry…advocate on his own behalf at the doctors and anywhere else where privacy laws dictate he now is an adult. Regardless, I still encourage both my boys to touch base with me anytime if they need advice or help in any way because I have their back more than anyone else in the world.
- Realizing it’s going to take time to get used to the QUIET NOISE of home. Even though my kids were sometimes hanging in their rooms, on their phones avoiding us, the moments of interaction will be missed.
- Helping our dog understand the boys aren’t home anymore as she walks into their rooms looking for them and barks when she thinks they are at the front door.
- Recognizing there will be more special moments and amazing times together, especially when they come home for breaks and holidays! It’s a transition that will be followed by yet another one once our boys move out, once they get married, once they have kids…..!
My older son asked, “What on earth are you and dad going to do now that both of us are in college.” My automatic response was, “We’re going to go to Disney.”
It’s ironic, isn’t it? The older our kids get, the more childlike we tend to feel in reflecting upon the parenting journey!
It’s important to remind ourselves, as our children grow and evolve at college, so should their moms! I’m going to soar with Buzz Lightyear, to ” infinity and beyond” into the next galaxy of life!
Of course, like birds, our kids will always come back to the nest we built called home!