I have felt like I’m on a runaway train with no breaks skidding toward my oldest son, Drew’s, inevitable departure for college since last fall. Sure we had visited schools before then and talked about college A LOT, but the night I stayed up until 2:30 am helping him get his early action applications submitted was the moment it became real for me. In the time since then, everything in my mind has been framed with that looming event. Our vacation to Myrtle Beach in the spring; our rare family days and almost as rare dinners together (since he’s always running out with friends); the first day of school; the last day of school; his last high school sports game; the last awards night—during each one of these times and many more of the mundane moments in the life of a mom, I thought… This is the last time it will be just like this before everything changes.
I know that everything will change. I was a different person after I went away to college. And while I thought of the house I grew up in as home until I married at twenty-eight years old, I only actually lived there for one year after I graduated. As soon as I found a job in Boston, I moved away from Long Island to be with my boyfriend. And even though we broke up a few months after I moved, I didn’t return to my hometown to stay for nine long years. I got married while living in Boston and had a kid. I was pregnant with my second child, before I returned. I know that kids now move home for the long haul far more often after college, thanks to the economy, but I don’t know if Drew will be one of them. He’s much like I was when I moved away for the first time—fiercely independent and eager to strike out on my own. That’s exactly how I want him to be… It’s just a bit hard.
It’s also been more than a bit hard writing this essay. I started a week ago and got down almost thirteen hundred words (more than half of which I just deleted). Something didn’t feel right, though and I kept reading and rereading it, not ready to post. I opened with a hook, “I had the flu—a knock-down, drag-out bout of it, over 102 fever, chills, cough… I couldn’t move out of bed, so my parents drove five hours to take care of my eighteen-month-old, from whom I had caught the nasty bug…” I went on to talk about how I dragged myself out of bed when my son wanted only me, even though my mom desperately wanted to help. I was the only one who could make things right back then—he knew it and I knew it. I mentioned that I’ve thought about that night as I help Drew pack up for school. I won’t be there if he needs me to make things right. But, to be honest, it’s been a very, very long time since he has needed that, which of course is the jackpot of parenting. I’m grateful that at eighteen years old, my son never needs me to swoop in and rescue him like he did at eighteen months old. That doesn’t make it any easier knowing that I can’t, though.
Tossing Tylenol and cough drops into a cart at the drug store, I realized that if Drew comes down with a cold or cough, I won’t be there to take care of him. I won’t be able to make him my special concoction of tea with orange juice and honey. My kids used to call it “Mommy Magic Juice.” I know it’s easy enough for him to make it—I’ve packed him a mug and bags of tea. He’s got a microwave and can easily grab packets of honey and orange juice from the Dining Commons. It’s not that he can’t take care of himself—he absolutely can and is more than happy to do so. It’s that I can’t take care of him. And that’s a new feeling for me. My kids never wanted to go away to sleep away camp. The only times Drew has been away for more than one night were a ski trip with friends and prom weekend on the Jersey Shore. I was nervous both times. I have to find a way to not be a “Nervous Nellie” when he’s away. And anyone who knows me well, knows that isn’t an easy task.
It’s not just the worrisome things on my mind, it’s all the happy times, as well. I won’t be there to watch Drew play volleyball, if he makes the club team (which I’m pretty sure he will). I won’t meet the girls he dates—at least not at first. I won’t get to know his friends. I won’t hear him in the basement playing the keyboards; the ukulele; the drums; the guitar…a constant soundtrack to our days and nights when he’s home. I think I might miss that the most of all. At least I can look forward to his breaks—the music will be all the sweeter.
I recently read a line that I wrote right before college graduation. It said, “Soon we’ll be looking back on this, instead of into it.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought about looking back on something while it’s still happening. The night before I got married, I stared into the mirror in my parents’ bathroom and thought—Soon I’ll be gazing at a married woman. Right before giving birth for the last time, I thought… Soon I won’t be pregnant anymore; I likely won’t be pregnant ever again. Everything will change. Walking hand and hand with my youngest son into the nursery school all of my children attended, I thought… This is the last time I’ll ever do this. Soon walking my children into nursery school will just be a memory.
Of course, getting married; having a baby; that baby graduating preschool are all wonderful, exciting milestones, but change is always a bit daunting, even if it’s positive. Sending your child off to college is a wonderful, exciting milestone, as well. But, it can be scary and at times even a bit heartbreaking. I want Drew to go off into the world and do amazing things. And I’m pretty lucky, because he’s attending my alma mater—the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. As much as I’ll miss him and as hard as it is for me, where he’s going feels like home to me. Walking around the campus each time we’ve visited, I’ve been flooded with warm memories. I couldn’t be happier with his choice. It will be surreal and pretty amazing moving him into the same dorm area I lived in at UMass. If I have to let him go, I’m thrilled this is the place he’s going to—one of my favorite places in the world. I know he’ll be just fine (I on the other hand might need a few tissues)…