Youngsters everywhere are heading off to college for the first time during the next few weeks. Jean Gillette decided to reprise her column on taking her youngest child off to college four years ago, in hopes of giving every parent of a college-bound child a virtual hug. She admits she has mostly recovered. He graduated in May.
I believe I just had my first out-of-body experience. Not so much fun as I had hoped.
As I boarded the plane home from Boston, leaving my boychild behind, my brain was saying, “Wonderful. That’s taken care of and it went flawlessly. He’s mature, he’s happy and settled and on his way to the best years of his life. Everything is just as it should be.” However, my body, particularly my tear ducts and stomach, were operating in a whole separate universe.
Every parent goes through their own style of separation trauma when their children actually move into adulthood. For a couple of days, I became the queen of split personalities. Intellectually, as my son and daughter have moved from the circle of my arms into their own worlds, I have applauded each stage. I have been absolutely delighted to see them expand their horizons, mature, show flashes of the person they will be someday.
But now I sat there, wedged between strangers and luggage, and simply cried randomly. I felt as if a brick wall had landed on me, finally getting through to me that my primary job as mother was over. Done. Finished. No going back. You won’t really be needed here anymore, Mrs. Gillette, but thanks for your wonderful service. It was just weird. My seatmates offered comforting words, but I just wanted to be left alone to try and reconcile body and brain. It took all my will power not to crawl into the overhead rack and slam it shut. My advice — be sure to book a window seat.
As my youngest moved through his senior year, then spent the summer preparing to go off to college, I was more excited than he was. “Aren’t you sad that he’s leaving?” my friends kept asking. But I didn’t feel sad. I knew I would miss him deeply, but I hardly saw him now. What would be different? Plenty. They don’t come home at night.
It seems I am exceptionally skilled at delaying misery. I’ve decided that isn’t such a bad thing. As we left for Boston, I felt only anticipation, the need to organize his departure, get him where he needed to go efficiently, foreseeing all possible hurdles. Then I envisioned having a couple of fun days in Boston in his company. (Wrong answer buzzer sounds here)
It’s hilarious how ridiculous a coherent, reasonable woman of 57 can be. I had no clue what would take place as my child walked through those dorm doors. I could almost hear his focus shift. I could feel him moving away from me at light speed, needing badly to concentrate on finding his way in his new world and a zillion other things. Mom was not one of them. He needed me to go away. The brain part of me immediately understood and did not for one instant take it personally. The body part of me was in agony. I went to a double-feature movie that night to keep myself distracted and at 1 a.m., moved my flight home up a day. I could not stay that close to my child and not be part of his existence. It was the deepest loneliness I have ever felt.
I am adjusting, with diminishing yet unforeseen bouts of tears. I am fortunate to have lots of joys and blessing in my life. I feel a little punch drunk, but even as I sit here dabbing my eyes and blowing my nose, I am still certain that motherhood is the best thing I’ve ever done.
P.S. I later discovered my child was extremely homesick his first few weeks. I hesitated to call him for fear of bugging him. Don’t.