It’s a strange mix of emotions that accompanied the act of dropping my son off for his first year of college. As I tried to describe it, “bittersweet” came to mind. But quickly, I realized that description was much too superficial.
I was doing well, excited for him for all that lay ahead. And of course, I was stressed. I’d been watching him “pack” for his dorm room. Filling box after box, filling a suitcase. Then asking if he could just take his clothes right on the hangars. Clothes? What the heck was in the suitcase? Were two raincoats necessary? Did he really need to take his own basketball - wouldn’t they have a gym full of them? Then we spent a serious amount of money outfitting our college student to be. Dorm room stuff, a bike, etc. The long drive back up to Washington to the school. The stress was naturally running a bit high.
And then he said goodbye to our family dog. He had tears in his eyes. I bawled like a baby. The emotions I’d kept at bay came tumbling forward like a landslide. How as I going to survive day to day without him around? He’s been my rock through our entire moving process while my husband has worked long hours.
As I thought about our relationship, I realized the subtle changes that had been happening. He could still annoy the crap out of me leaving his cereal bowl sitting on the counter, his water glasses all over the house. He could still appear helpless asking me to make him lunch simply because he was too lazy and he knew I would. (Both of those things with a guilty grin on his face when I routinely called him out on it.) But... he was also becoming... and adult. An adult that I truly like being around. He’s witty and smart. Despite the number of one word answers he STILL gives me like a moody teenager (he IS still a teenager for another year), he has intelligent conversations, too. He is opinionated and well thought out. He may not devour books like I did at his age but he reads up on things that catch his interest, he keeps up on current events, and can talk about them like... an adult. I like being around him. I'm sad and I miss his face.
It’s a selfish grief. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that I’m not sad for him, I’m sad for me. But I'm experiencing something that could be viewed with much joy, as well. I am able to watch my son move forward with his whole life ahead of him. And I can be here to answer questions about laundry and to cheer from the sidelines. I felt my son perceiving my grief and my anxiety ridden reminders to do this or that as a sign that I didn’t think he could handle it. Quite the contrary, the fact that he can and will handle it, with grace and maturity, is part of what makes a parent like me so sad. I know they will always *need* us, but the reality is they don’t need us every minute of every day. Why? Because we’ve spent the last 18-19 years preparing him for this very moment. And apparently we’ve done an okay job.
As I looked around at some of the other students moving into the dorms, and then looked at my son, I felt a little bit of peace wash over me. He is probably more mature and more ready than half the kids moving in. His transition will be less painful than some. It’s another challenge on his horizon that he will rise up to meet and conquer. Yes, being a little older with a September birthday has helped that maturity. Yes, we probably deserve a little credit as parents. But there have been lot of positive influences in his life over the years and those names and faces washed over me, too. All in all, he’s just a really great kid. One who leaves his cereal bowl laying out for his mother to clean or put in the dishwasher.
As we slept in the hotel that first night, we were woken by the sound of a crying (screaming) baby. My initial irritation was quickly replaced by a knowing smile. How could I possibly convince that mother, in her sleep deprived state, that in 18 years she would be longing for the day that that little child needed the strong embrace of his or her mother’s arms to stop the wracking sobs and bring comfort. Instead, that child would be walking away from her to meet a new challenge in life with quick hug, a kiss on the cheek and a smile.
Like I said, I miss his face.
Okay, okay. It wasn't all rainbows, life revelations and tears. I haven't seen the girlfriend in over a month. And I have found that, for me, sometimes absence does not make the heart grow fonder. This normal mom just might be hoping that the attention demanding hold that the girlfriend has on my son might somehow dissolve at college. Just sayin’. But that’s another story for another day, and I’m hoping another natural reaction from a mom that just wants her son to experience a little bit of the world.