Dear whoever just brought their kids to college,
I know. No, really, I do. I did it. Twice. It was hard. And sad, and funny, and surreal, and totally bizarre, and shocking and amazing and honestly, it almost felt like I must be dead-asleep having one of those realistic dreams where you think you’re awake because you play out the scenario since the day your little baby pops out of you and then there you are on some scenic campus about to leave your child there, alone, wondering who the talented magician was who stole the years between birth and that day without you even noticing. Yeah, I feel you.
I understand. Seriously. I grieved for the entirety of my son’s senior year of high school in preparation for the big goodbye. I cried through every “last’ there was. And when he finally boarded the plane for the up-all-night city of Barcelona for his first semester (a Spring admit to USC, LA), I had myself a very major-grieving-Italian-widow-who-wears orthopedic-shoes cry. Four months later, of course, we had to take him to LA, which was also sort of dramatic, but at least he was in the states. I cried again, but not as much (lying here, just as much, if not more).
When my daughter left, three years after her brother’s departure, it was different because the nest was now officially empty, for real and that’s a whole other thing. But, she was only two hours from home and we also went to every one of her soccer games (EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.). Galavanting around New England from September through the start of October and sometimes longer, we saw a lot of her. And anytime she or we felt the need to see one another, we could do it by leaving in the AM and being home by the PM. Which wasn’t an option to see our son. Drive to LA for dinner? Right.
But enough about me, let’s talk about you. Are you feeling worried? Do you keep thinking your kid is going to burst through the door? Are you making too much for dinner and looking over longingly at their empty chair? Are you having some anxiety in the middle of the night at around, say, 2 AM? Have you gotten rid of all their favorite junky snacks yet? Are you the parent who is crying their head off, OR the one having sex on the kitchen island? (There are those parents, but I don’t know any of them).
Well, here’s my advice, from someone who’s been there:
I say grieve for as long as you have to. It’s a transition. A big one. And it’s ok to feel sad, lonely, confused, and/or downright fucking miserable. It’s also ok to be rejoicing. It’s honestly perfectly fine to feel any way you feel. (It’s actually always ok to feel any way feel ANY OLD TIME). So, give yourself the emotional space to feel whatever it is you’re feeling and honor that.
Throw yourself a parade. You made it through not only bringing your child to campus with at least most of his stuff (“Mom, I forgot my blue sweater with the thing on it….”), you got your child to this point. And in the last year, I’m guessing it wasn’t without drama. I do hear about those unicorn families where it’s just easy as making a coffee, but not that much. It’s a year long sprint of making “the list,” making the visits, writing that goddamn essay, meeting all those deadlines, deciding on ED (and I’m not talking erectile dysfunction, although I imagine the stress could cause that…..), trying to block out the incessant talk of where this one applied, and where that one got in and where this one was already rejected and who is legacy and who got a scholarship and who is playing what sport where. And of course, there is the financial aid and FAFSA and loans and monetary decisions and allowance discussions. And then there is the waiting. THE WAITING. Which is endless and the stress of it is like a dense fog over the Golden Gate Bridge. So, you know, give yourself some credit here. You were right there for all of it as the support team, so you know, cheerleading squad yay for you.
With cell hones, WhatsApp, texting, Zoom, and social media, the zillion of other kinds of techno messaging we now have, staying in touch is easy peasy. I cannot imagine how my poor parents let us leave with only a landline and snail mail for comfort. I had a deal with my son when he was in Barcelona, party city of the world, that he didn’t have to have a convo with me, but that everyday he had to send me a text that said “Alive.” Yeah, I wasn’t too nervous. But the point was that I wanted to give him space, but I also wanted to know he was safe. He was in touch a lot, as it turned out. Letting them know you don’t want to rain on their new adventure, but that you’re there is important. For both of you.
Have some fun. Do things you couldn’t do when your kid was home. For my husband and I, one of the big ones was dinner. We always had dinner together as a family. That required shopping for it and making it and cleaning up after it. Since I am a freelancer, sometimes I could do that easily and sometimes I couldn’t. It was always a stress and it usually fell on me. So, once the kids left, my appreciative and easy-to-please husband was game for for easy dinners on the nights I couldn’t make it happen. We could have cheese and crackers for dinner, popcorn (I know, if I’d had my druthers, I’d have had popcorn dinners with my kids–I LOVE POPCORN), and we were thrilled, and my dinner distress went down to zero. So, enjoy some of the things not having kids home allows you really helps take the sting out of their departure.
Talk to other parents who are living the same experience. Share your grief, elation, concern, pride with your friends and those surfing the same ocean. It helps.
Sometimes just cry.
You’ve got this. It’s another stage of life and just like all of them, it takes time to adjust. But you will. And also, heads up, when they come home, expect a little adjustment period for them and for you. It’s hard to leave home and then come back and have a foot in two places, so expect some cranky before it evens out and you have a nice visit.
Ok, that’s all I got. Congratulations and be grateful that you all made it so far. It’s no small feat. Now go, have some popcorn
We here at the gratitudeathon (meaning ME here at the gratiutudeathon)