When my son was born 18 years ago, it seemed like the year 2022 would be an eternity away…how could my preemie baby boy, just 5 pounds 3 ounces, ever grow up to be 18? Even though it was my hope that he would go off to college someday, how could it now really be happening? That he would be leaving. Leaving us, leaving our family (leaving…me)?
Throughout the whole college application process for my son, I stayed logical and “in my head” (what therapists say when people are operating from the thinking part of their brain and are disconnected from their emotions and their heart). I encouraged my son to apply to schools out-of-state as well as in-state, offering what I thought at the time was good advice that “It’s important to keep your options open.”
When April came and it was decision-making time, I was so relieved when my son said he was “80% sure” that he would attend one of the two in-state universities—one that is 20 minutes away or one that is 90 minutes away. The advantages were abundant: if he got sick, he could come home to be nurtured back to health or we could go to him to help; if he was struggling emotionally or dealing with friend/dating/academic challenges, he could come home (to be nurtured back to emotional health); if he needed to do laundry, he could come home (his laundry he’d need to do himself but I’d make him a yummy meal!).
You can imagine my surprise (shock) mid-April, after my son returned from an out-of-state college tour, encouraged by me (insert mimicking tone: “Keep your options open!”), when he declared that he made his decision to attend this out-of-state school that requires a whole air travel day one-way or 25 hours by car. All those “advantages” of being so close logistically were now gone—poof!—replaced with a panic inside of, “If I can’t be there if he needs help, what will happen to him?” My son, sensing my anxiety, responded wisely and compassionately, “Mom, I’ll figure it out!” and “Mom, you can still support me by phone!” While I appreciated his words and intentions, it was hard to trust that this was the right decision. In June, however, my husband and I attended this out-of-state university’s parent orientation. Just like my son was won over by this school, I actually was as well (my husband, too); we were able to see different advantages of him going there.
At this point, excited for this opportunity for my son, I got back “in my head,” making lists of what he needs for his dorm and reviewing with my son the Ready for Adulthood Checklist (yes, that’s literally the name of it) to make sure I had done my job as a parent…haha, if only it were that easy! (By the way, high school graduation gifts provided a nice opportunity for him to solidify his learning of the following Checklist item: “When and how to write thank you notes and how to address an envelope.” I also discovered that neither of us was really clear on “Steps to take if you’re in a car accident.” Yikes!).
It is now 2 weeks away from when my son will leave (me). Earlier this week, I came across the song, “Last Days of Summer,” by Lucy Kaplansky. I think it was actually a message from my Higher Power to encourage (force?) me to tune into my emotions about my son’s going away to college. The artist, Kaplansky, sings of exactly what I am feeling…how 18 years ago her daughter was born and she is now moving to college:
KAPLANSKY: (Singing) But I’ll miss that girl in her room, safe and mine. Life is a circle strewn with goodbyes. After 18 years, how can it be just one week more till we carry those boxes to her new room on the seventh floor?
Music can be such a powerful way to connect with and process our emotions. I am thankful for this song as it has provided the avenue for me to acknowledge my sadness, to somehow give me the message that it’s OK to cry, and to remember that within my grief there is gratitude for the circle of life and for what adventures lie ahead for my son. It comforts me to know that I’m certainly not the only mother to feel this way. Perhaps most importantly, it gives me hope: If the songwriter was able to get through it, so can I!
As I vacillate between allowing myself to feel my emotions and getting back “in my head,” I am now making my list of things still needed to review with my son from the Ready for Adulthood Checklist (e.g., “How to tie a tie” and “How to fix a running toilet”) and talking about how to be a “good dorm roommate” as recommended from the parent orientation.
I will also be hugging him a bit more tightly each day before he leaves while I intentionally remind myself to trust that he is guided by his Higher Power on his life’s path. I have room inside me for both the sadness of this closing chapter of him being “safe and mine” and the excitement of what lies ahead for both of us—but especially him—as we each turn the page of this new chapter in our lives.
Below is the beautiful song by Kaplansky…be sure to have a couple tissues ready!
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