A couple of weeks ago, I asked you all to think of me as my husband and I dropped off our oldest son at college. If you don’t care to read about my personal life, feel free to move on, but with a milestone event like this one, I thought it was worth sharing. I survived college drop off and lived to tell about it. And while I don’t like comparing it to grieving in its truest sense, I found that it kind of follows along with the Five Stages of Grief that we all know.
Wherever you are in your parenting journey, if you’re like me, you’ve probably been dreading college drop off since your infancy. But it was always one of those things that was “way off in the future” – no need to think about it now.
I had been keeping this mindset for as long as I could, but once he started senior year, I couldn’t deny it anymore. Even this summer, I continued to think of all of the fun things that I had to look forward to, ahead of college drop off day. I had the Haven Conference, we had summer vacation – but once we got back from summer vacation, there it was – looming and waiting for me, with nothing else standing in between us.
Senior year was the year where I felt like I was mentally preparing myself for him to leave the nest, and in some ways, I think he started preparing as well. As one of my veteran college mom friends put it, “they dirty the nest before they leave.” I remember reading that kids need to start mentally separating from their parents, and their behavior reflects that. It’s almost like they’re “breaking up” with their parents. I’ll admit it, there were days where I was ready for him to go to school. Tired of his messes, his lazy tendencies, having to repeat myself ten times when I asked him to do something. You get the picture. He’s a great kid, but definitely acts like a stereotypical teenage boy in many ways.
I think my bargaining came into play with all of the activities that I had lying ahead of drop-off day. “Once we get through vacation, then I’ll think about college drop off.”
Between that, and the millions of little tasks, there was plenty to keep me busy and out of the reality that was coming.
The day before we dropped him off was one of the hardest for me. It was as though his entire childhood flashed before my eyes. Even on the day we were leaving, I was flipping through the channels, and the movie “Dinosaur” was on tv – one that he was obsessed with as a toddler, and probably watched a hundred times. How did I get here? Didn’t he just go to kindergarten?
I think the reality of it all hit him that day as well – he’d been in a state of denial worse than I was. On the way to school he was the best version of himself – the kid that I knew was still in there, underneath all of that teenaged boy “stuff”. That sweet, funny, talkative, smart kid was still there.
We stopped for breakfast on the way, and he told me, “Mom, no crying ok?” I had been good for the most part, keeping it together. When we arrived at his dorm, I got down to business, putting things together (and he was happy to oblige), and getting his room situated (and you can see that Flat Murphy made the trip).
I took time to write up a bunch of different “Open When” notes (Open When you’re homesick, Open When your roommate is getting on your nerves, etc…), and slipped them underneath his pillow. He really loved this and sent me a sweet text when he found them.
If you’re thinking about doing something like this for your college student, here are the topics that I included in mine:
I even put little notes of encouragement in the pockets of some of his clothes – it put my mom heart a little more at ease.
He walked us to our car, before he had to go to his dorm meeting, and we got a photo before we said good-bye.
This is where I had a kindergarten flashback. On the first day of kindergarten, you could tell he wanted to cry, but was trying to keep it together. Except this time, some tears were shed. He said, “I’ve been holding it in all day.” Then the tears came for me. He started walking back to his dorm, and as we were pulling the car around to leave, we spotted him. We rolled down our window, honked the horn and shouted “We love you!” waving like the geeked out parents that we are. So that was a good thing – all of us laughing. But it was hard. No matter how much I thought I had mentally prepared myself, it was still like a sucker punch to the gut.
When we got home, it was so strange knowing he wasn’t home, hanging out in the basement. My husband couldn’t even go down there to turn off the lights. And really, for the first week or so, if anyone asked me how I was doing, I would start crying. However, I’ve gotten a lot better now that he’s starting to settle in at school. It was time. He was ready and needed to move to this next phase in life. College is what we’ve worked toward all of these years, and I remind myself that I’m lucky that I get to send him to college. There have been too many car accidents recently where teens have lost their lives. Those parents won’t be able to send their sons and daughters to school. So I keep reminding myself that this is a blessing.
And I really enjoy being able to go down to the basement and not lose my mind about the mess. I cleaned/shoveled out the crap and we taunted him with a text telling him that his brother was moving in and making himself comfortable.
It’s a new chapter in his life and in our own. It’s all good, and it’s what is supposed to be happening at this stage in life. Do I miss him? Yes. And I still can’t believe that I have a son who is in college. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.