For Cara, or, Comfort for Parents of Imminent College Students

For all the tea in China I would never be purposefully rude or hurtful to anyone, yet I so often am when unfiltered things come flying out of my face or occasionally, fingertips. For example, the other day a friend posted a heartfelt comment about her daughter going off to college, how she was already teary just in anticipation of the event, now mere weeks away. Because we share a twisted sense of humor I shot back a flippant, “Pussy” and, while I know she took it in the spirit intended, I’ve felt badly about it in the intervening days. Jesus, I’ve been there – don’t I have something better to offer than that?

So, for Cara and parents everywhere taking your only or last children off to college here is all the wisdom/consolation I have to offer on saying and surviving (a temporary) goodbye:

  • Don’t worry if your child seems focused only on dorm room, dorm roommate, welcome functions, etc., etc., noticing you only at cash registers; there are lots of cash registers in your immediate future, so you’ll get plenty of attention.
  • Speaking of cash registers, you’re about to hemorrhage money. No matter how much you’ve saved against this day, clever you, doubling it isn’t enough. Accepting this now will save heartache (and possible heart attack) later.
  • The independence your offspring is now asserting and which maybe stings just a wee bit if one is honest with oneself, is exactly what you were shooting for all those years. If your new college student seems to be navigating along just fine, you and your wallet trailing in his or her wake, well done, You. This was always the goal. (Except for maybe the wallet part, but baby steps.)
  • When you get home you will find no matter the size of its physical structure, in your absence your house has somehow grown exponentially, like a TARDIS, cottage on the outside, mansion on the inside. This illusory space is not as welcome as one thought it might be, not even on the day when the hat box containing not hats but three pounds of Mardi Gras beads, fell from the over-stacked top closet shelf directly onto one’s head.
  • The quiet; you will wonder, what’s up with the quiet?!
  • But, one day two or three weeks later, maybe four (if you’re stubborn), you will come home to that suddenly larger house only it won’t seem so very big and the quiet will be welcome after a tough day. You and your spouse will eat left overs directly from the Olive Garden containers in which you brought them home, perhaps without benefit of having passed through the microwave first. With no practice, rehearsal, game, or event to get anyone to or attend, no last-minute project supply dash to Walgreen’s, you and your partner will relax utterly into the couch, falling asleep holding hands while watching Big Bang Theory reruns, and it will be Good.
  • When your child comes home at Thanksgiving or Christmas he or she will be a child no more, and this is both unsettling and exactly right. With this new maturity also comes an appreciation for home, and you. No need to point it out, just pay attention and rejoice that your child is Getting It.

Here is when you know you have Gotten It and will be Alright, and this may happen as soon as the first visit home or a subsequent visit a couple of years down the road (if you’re stubborn): remember how when they were teenagers and out at night and we waited up, only really going to sleep after hearing their bedroom door close? Old habits are hard to break and when they first come home to visit, you will do the same thing; however, there comes a time you will wake when they come in, swimming only to the surface of consciousness long enough to acknowledge, “Oh good, she’s home,” and this is a Good Thing.

Perhaps you’re shedding tears as you drop off your babies at college, because you’re thinking the heavy lifting is done and he or she doesn’t need you anymore. You couldn’t be more wrong; your baby will most certainly need you in all the years ahead but what that looks like will be nothing you expect. Just as when they were little and each age had its own wonders, so too will the milestones and events of your child’s adult years, and they’re going to provide you with more wonder, awe, and amusement than you can possibly imagine. So, congratulations! You done good; now, wipe your tears and start thinking about what comes next for you.

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