It is that time of year. Some kids are going to college for the first time. A difficult moment for all concerned.
If you are a parent, your child may have been spending much of the last year or two pushing you away; being disagreeable; wanting to spend more time alone; confiding in you less.
It could be adolescent rebellion in a fairly moderate form, but, more likely, it is his striving for independence; and his anticipation of the real break — the one that finds him living in a different state; both a state of mind and a State of the Union.
As most of us know, it usually feels better to be the one who ends a relationship first or enacts a change in it — separates, creates a distance — than to be on the receiving end of that action. But, whatever it is, it is tough for sure.
The farewells can be tearful and terrifying, mostly for parents. The kids have their anxieties too, but don’t want to betray them as openly as the elders do. The students’ brave front is as much to persuade themselves that everything will be fine outside the nest as to keep their ambivalence in check, lest they encourage mom and dad to show even more emotion and make the parting harder.
I remember spending a good portion of our drive back home from an off-to-college goodbye with tears in my eyes, having taken our eldest to the Champaign/Urbana campus of the University of Illinois. Within a few days we heard from her though. Sure enough, homesickness.
Letting go of your children is hard, as I’ve written elsewhere on this blog. You have to have faith that your offspring have learned something by age 18 and that they will survive, bruised but unbowed. Not much you can do anyway, unless you are prepared to keep them hostage in your basement forever.
They will return of course, but they won’t be the same. That too is a good, if ambivalent thing, a sword that cuts both ways. As a parent, you’ll remember the cuddly and loving stage, the moment when you were everything to them and they couldn’t get enough of you. In trade, you get to see your children flourish (one hopes) as adults, a wondrous thing when you remember back to how little and helpless they once were.
But, be patient. The “full bloom” just might take some time and some struggle. Keep the faith.
Regardless, you do get more peace, quiet, and privacy as a bonus.
A new relationship, then — something different rather than better or worse.
The “saying goodbye” comes by degrees. At first, they return for summer vacation and holidays. Later, they will live away and see you less often. Such is life.
My wife and I kept a very old car for our daughters to use when they were home, even after both had graduated college and gone on to grad school. Finally, a minor accident rendered it beyond repair and we donated it to charity.
For a few days after the auto had been taken away, my wife and I both felt a little bit low. We talked about it. Of course, it wasn’t hard to figure out. The car was a symbol, something tied to the time they lived with us, and something that said they would be coming back. Now, with the car gone, we both had to face that there was no coming back with the regularity of the past.
Their lives were elsewhere.
When I gave the toast at my eldest’s wedding, I told the following story:
I remember the day that we took Jorie to Champaign/Urbana to the Illini Towers dorm, to begin her college education at the University of Illinois. We thought we would be clever about it, so we woke up very early that Saturday morning and drove fast so that we would be among the first to get into the building and unloaded. But we were out foxed by several hundred people, who had gotten up earlier and driven faster and were already way ahead of us in line to use the couple of elevators and the small number of carts to get their child moved in.
It was a long, hot, late summer day. And as we stood in line waiting, I had a feeling of familiarity, as if I had done this before. Of course, I had never moved Jorie into any new place, so I couldn’t easily figure it out.
As the morning changed to afternoon (and we were still in line), I thought back to the day that Jorie was born. At 1:00 AM, that is to say, in the dead of night, Jorie gave the signal and we were off to the hospital. And that too was a long day as we waited for the labor to progress. Finally, at 9:34 PM, over 20 hours later, Jorie arrived in this new world. And I realized that the long day of waiting for her to be born was what the long day of waiting at Illini Towers reminded me of.
The only difference was that on that day at the hospital we were waiting to say hello to her, and on the day at Illini Towers we were waiting to say goodbye.
Shakespeare was right.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
But, life does go on.
The image above is The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis by Jacques-Louis David.