Nine years ago, I was one of thousands of parents taking my freshman son, my oldest child, to FSU, leaving him on his own for the first time. As I wrote in his high school senior ad just a month earlier, we were looking forward to this next chapter in his life. Actually, it was more like this next chapter is coming whether I liked it or not…..and I did not. My son started in one of the summer sessions, so the time between high school graduation and leaving for FSU was a few precious weeks. We dutifully shopped for the recommended room supplies (brand new! had to be brand new!), bought the Twin XL dorm sheets (yes, get those) and signed him up for the meal plan (what? he should starve on his own?). I played phone tag with the health center to make sure our medical insurance plan would be accepted (it was not…..had to purchase the insurance through school for that first year). I put together a folder with all the important phone numbers on campus (heaven forbid he should have to look up one on his own). Once on campus and after navigating the dorm check-in, we focused on unpacking and setting up his room, getting it just right, putting things where he wanted them, hanging the towels up, getting his shower tote organized (you’ll want one of those, too). I helicoptered all over that room, my last chance to do something, anything, for my son in making this transition easier for him.
Ok, so he had the material things, he had a solid high school foundation, he had all the wisdom and advice we could stuff into him, he was as ready as he was ever going to be. But what about me? Was I really ready? I had been deliberately focusing on him and his needs in order not to focus on mine. During his senior year in high school, I commiserated with a friend who was going through the same scenario with her first born. How do we do this? How do we let go? How do we not dwell on how our children are doing? How do we not pick up the phone and reach out, just to hear their voices, to know they’re ok? How do we let our children move on to this next chapter?
You just do.
I know, great advice, but what is the alternative? You’re not moving in, doing the laundry, making the bed or taking notes in class for your child. You’re not cooking dinner, packing lunches or making breakfast. Much like anything else difficult in life, you have to walk through it. I had to walk through it. I had another child at home that needed me, for which I was grateful as she provided the distraction I needed so as not to dissolve in a puddle of worry and fret when I didn’t hear from my son for a few days. I weathered the homesickness, the numerous phone calls about the crisis du jour, the complaints about this, that or the other, which eventually gave way to “guess what I did today” or “”I made a couple of new friends today” or “I just saw the best movie for free!”. I had to trust that the lessons and values we had been trying to instill for years had been heard and, hopefully, internalized. I had to trust that my son had a good head on his shoulders, a solid moral compass and the capability to maneuver through these first few days, weeks, months, freshman year. Make no mistake, it was not smooth sailing throughout. There were bumps and stumbles and lessons learned, some much harder than others.
Looking back to the summer of 2008, I wish I could tell my then-self to relax, step back and let my son step up. I had him for the first 18 years and now it was time to let him fly on his own, let him soar, let him explore, let him grow up. With each visit home, I still cried when he left but how great was it to see him and see how he was thriving! Oh, memo to then-self…..stay away from the linen program. Convenient for sure, but good gosh, I’ve never seen such thin sheets, even thinner towels and the flattest pillow in existence, all of which wore out by the end of that first year. And yes, I replaced with new. I had certainly evolved, but some things never change.
–Michelle K. 8/8/2017