When Your Baby Goes to College

Tonight as I was walking through the kitchen doing my evening clean-up rituals, I looked out onto the deck and saw a pair of Ethan’s old tennis shoes in a pile of things waiting to be put away after vacation. For some reason, the sight of those shoes (and the immediate image of my boy wearing them) was a gut-punch lump in the throat moment that took a few minutes to get over.

“It’s weird how having a child move away feels like…grief,” I thought, or at least what I’ve read about grief. Unexpected emotions, fine one minute, a mess the next. That’s how I’ve felt the last few months, since back when our boy graduated high school and then almost immediately left for summer classes at college. Last weekend, we officially moved him up, this time with more swag for his room (a rug, more bedding, stuff to hang on the walls) but even that didn’t feel too official because this time around we didn’t all go up together. We did that in the summer, the whole family helping him move into his dorms. This time it felt like since he just left campus two weeks earlier, we didn’t need as much pomp and circumstance.

And as it was, Paul drove him back to school and once they got on campus Ethan was so excited about seeing his friends and getting ready for class the next morning, he hugged Paul and off he went. It was different because he had already been there, it felt a little less official.

I tell myself these things, I ease into the whole way of life — when he moved in the summer it was only for six weeks; when he moved back for Fall he had already been gone — but you can say all these things and there are still emotions that are there. Try as you might to shove them down, waaaaay down, because children have been leaving for college since the dawn of time, who are you (one might say to oneself) to get more emotional than the next mom?

But what I’m learning in this crazy new season, is that emotions are there and while perhaps you shouldn’t give into them or let them rule you, it’s okay to acknowledge them. “This is how I’m feeling,” I’m learning to say, “and it’s understandable.”

That last part has been a big step for me — admitting that it’s understandable.

Every step of the way with this college move, I’ve tried to downplay the feelings or quantify them. “Other kids go further, he’s right down the road.” “He’s only going for six weeks this first time.” And my favorite, the one I cling to the most, “it’s such an awesome opportunity!”

But two hours, while very close indeed, is definitely not right up the stairs. It’s a very weird, strange, CAHRAZY thing to not have all your babies in the nest. And yes, as I have said AD NAUSEUM it’s exciting and what a great thing my son gets to do, what a thrilling new season for him — well I can say all that and in the same breath admit that I’m happy for him and outrageously proud and also hurting just a little that he’s not here.

It’s just. so. complicated.

I don’t want everyone to be home always and forever, I don’t. But it’s also just plain strange to already be at the place where my children are big enough to leave. The first one anyway. It’s just a mystery. How can we already be here, at this stage of the game?

And so I see those shoes and I acknowledge the lump in my throat and maybe I say a prayer for my boy — and a prayer for us too, those of us here missing him. But not in a way that makes him ever think for a minute that we are lost without him. I want my children to have every adventure God has in store for them — life is so wonderful, there is so much to do and see in this great world of ours! And I don’t want all these feels I’m having during this new season make my children feel bad about living life.

It’s just, well, this is what it’s like to be a human and for me, to be a mother. In this new season that no longer includes all of us together always, this is what it’s like. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s complicated.