Early on the morning I was to take my youngest and last kid to college, I woke in a panic. The thoughts racing through my mind were “Have I done enough?” “Is he prepared?” “Did I give him all the tools he will need?” “Did I spend enough time with him?” “Did I screw this up?”
It was a little late to be making sweeping parenting changes as he was headed out the door, so I assured myself I’d done the best I could.
There is something so intrinsically scary about letting our children go while at the same time being exciting and thrilling. They have their entire lives ahead of them, and I have the privilege of watching each one unfold.
I’ve known for a long time that parenting is a privilege. We have our important role in shaping our kids’ lives, but bearing witness to it is a precious, amazing journey.
I can’t take credit or blame for how their personalities take shape, the decisions they make or the behavior they exhibit. While I like to believe I’ve had a hand in the really important foundational stuff, there are many others who help shape our children. There are teachers and mentors in many guises. There are friends, frenemies and foes from which to learn. There are sports, activities and clubs where more growth stems.
I was bracing myself for this last one, knowing full well he was the last man out, and would leave me with that proverbial empty nest.
Many mothers were bracing themselves. Some of my friends have only one child, and I could tell they were torn between their sadness and pride as they launched their babies into the world. Other moms saw their oldest child off, or a second or third. It doesn’t seem to get easier no matter where you are on the spectrum.
I actually began preparation for this final liftoff when my son began high school, knowing it was the beginning of the end. I became hyper intentional about relishing the moments that were left. Maybe not the ones where he failed to clean his room again, but you know, the other bits.
Two summers ago, my son and I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together as he played on a travel baseball team. We logged hundreds of hours traversing the mid-Atlantic, staying in hotels and eating meals together in restaurants. I stayed fully present, enjoying the moments. As a result, those memories are safely ensconced in my heart and bring me joy when I recollect them.
As I prepared myself the morning of college move-in day, I dried my tears and made my son and husband our last breakfast together for awhile.
My son packed up his Jeep and put the few remaining items in another car. When he asked me to ride with him to school so we’d have the last couple of hours together, I was touched. It made me cry a little more.
My understanding husband drove the other car while I enjoyed the ride with my son. He was in high spirits, entertaining as always.
We got to his college, figured out the lay of the land, and took care of some necessary odds and ends before helping him move into his dorm. His roommate and family were already in the room when we arrived and our two families enjoyed conversation as the boys settled in.
Our family headed to a free “farewell luncheon” on the quad then walked over to the baseball diamond just to take a few pictures of the place my son will spend half of his time while in college to study engineering.
Everyone thought I would have a breakdown upon saying our goodbyes, but I didn’t. I squeezed him hard, told him I loved him, and silently asked the universe to watch over him.
I’ve experienced a few big pangs over the empty nest, but truthfully, I’m psyched to have my life back more fully. I have been parenting for over 25 years now, and some things in my own life have taken a back seat during that time.
I relish the thought of reclaiming my life in its new state. When people ask, “What will you do?” I say, “Are you kidding? Let me show you my long list!”
My last kid might be starting a new chapter, but so am I, and so is my marriage. It’s been great so far and should only get better.
But, for all you kids out there, let me tell you this. You are our hearts, so do me a favor, and keep in touch with your mother. She needs to hear from you and occasionally hug you tight. Your room? Well, that’s up to you now.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, September 13, 2015.
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