Before I dropped my son off to start his freshman year in college last month, I made myself two promises: 1. I would not cry when I said goodbye, and 2. I would not cry in front of my eight year old younger son during the car ride home. Well, I broke those promises. I not only cried both times, the tears were voluminous. At least I managed to get out the words “You’ve…got…this” through my sobs as I hugged my son goodbye. I felt sucker punched because I was fine when we unpacked his things and set up his dorm room for the bulk of the day. In those final moments, my internal calm quickly turned to chaos. I was acting as if I would never see my son again. It was pretty ridiculous.
As I cried on the ride home, my mind kept flipping through images of my son as a toddler. Seriously? That toddler was gone, LONG gone. Why was I crying about losing him now? Why was I feeling a loss at all? My son wasn’t gone; he moved into a college dorm room for heaven’s sake. I needed to get a grip.
I spent the next few days feeling confused. I was so happy for my son, but I was sad for myself. We’ve always been close and hung out together—way more than I did with my own parents when I was his age. Going to concerts and the theater was our thing. We talk openly about real things, not superficial nonsense. I wondered how our relationship would change now that my son was living two and a half hours away. Would we still be as close? That’s when I realized I was afraid and I understood why I kept envisioning my son as a toddler after I dropped him off. My son needed me when he was a toddler. Maybe my son didn’t need me anymore. Simultaneously, I was leveled and comforted by this thought. I want my son to be self-sufficient and capable of functioning, no soaring, in this world without me. Not to sound morbid, but I know I won’t be here forever. I need to know my son will be okay when I am gone. It sure felt good to be so needed all these years, though. I know on some level my son still needs me, but not like he used to. Intellectually I guess I always understood that children are only ours on loan, but now I felt it emotionally. I blinked and eighteen years passed. Really, it was just a blink.
As I’ve grappled with my emotions in this first month, my son somewhat effortlessly acclimated to college life in a new city. The truth is, I knew he would. He’s mature, capable, and responsible. He’s been ready for college for a while now. I’d like to think I had something to do with that. While I miss my son dearly, I am ecstatic he is adjusting so well. His calls and texts come in regularly to let me know he really likes his roommates, classes, and professors and he’s exploring the city with his friends. His world is getting so much bigger than it ever could have in our small Connecticut town. New opportunities await as he learns to navigate independently, creating new support structures for himself. He is happy. Really happy. In the end, isn’t that all we want our kids to be? My confusion, sadness, and fear have faded. My son is where he is meant to be. So, to my son I say—fly, chickadee, fly. I’ll be right here in our nest waiting whenever you need me.