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Every Year About This Time

Every Year About This Time

Off to School

It’s an annual ritual that some parents love and other parents loathe. Every year about this time parents send their first child off to college. Many more parents will participate in this ritual as a parent of a preschooler or kindergartener. Whether it is the first drop off at preschool, watching them get on the bus (and wanting to go with them), or loading the car to go to college, take heart.

These are important life transitions – for everyone.

Yes, everyone. The emotions each of you experience will be different: confidence, doubt, wonder, sadness, excitement, curiosity, hope, joy, freedom…the list of emotions is infinite. Some you won’t understand for weeks or years. And, that’s ok. Whatever it is you’re experiencing…embrace it.

Because it means you’re human.

A Great Privilege

I had the privilege of working with first-year students and their families as a college student, graduate student, and as my first professional job. I loved this time of year. Maybe I loved it because this season is filled with possibility. Perhaps this time of year spoke to me because it was a start of something new. Maybe, just maybe, I loved it because the opportunity to walk alongside adults who have poured their lives into another human being is, quite simply, a great privilege.

So, mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, aunt, uncle, neighbor, and dear friend. Every year about this time I pull out a monologue we used during orientation many years ago. It first appeared on National Public Radio. Yes, we strategically placed kleenex boxes throughout the auditorium.

You’ve been warned.

It’s from decades ago. Change the date, the gender, and place your child’s name…the sentiments are universal.

All Things Considered

Donna Damico Meyer shared these words on NPR back in 1994:

“In the fall of 1982, when my first born boarded the school bus for the first grade, I dissolved into tears. My husband looked on in total bewilderment. ‘It’s the beginning of the end,’ I sobbed, ‘today first grade, tomorrow college.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘tomorrow he will still be in first grade and we’ve got 12 years to go.’

This week Charlie left for college and my husband was wrong, it was just yesterday that he got on the bus for first grade.

The years, it seems, have flown by. We have had some slow times, of course, these last 18 years, particularly the first five. In those days it would sometimes take me an hour and a half to get two kids dressed, out the door, and into car seats. I can remember getting the last boot on foot number four and realize that in the meantime foot number one had removed its boot. Life was structured then.

Looking back, I’m not sure if I believed it would ever end. I knew it in my head, but never in my gut. All this summer I’ve tried to picture myself driving Charlie to college. I could see the four of us chugging up I-95, but the image ends there. I could never picture the three of us coming back without him.

It’s not like we weren’t preparing all year long. Charlie’s senior year was a constant reminder of his imminent departure – campus visits, the SATs, application deadlines, essays, interviews, mood swings, and waiting – endless waiting.

Last fall I set out thinking I would be wise, supportive, and calm, and that I would learn a lot to pass on to friends with younger children. Well, here’s what I learned – the whole experience is hard on everybody, it takes over the entire family’s psyche, and in the end you have to say goodbye, ready or not.

We managed to survive the school year and headed towards summer knowing that we were facing issues centered around our son’s need for independence and the need to separate as painlessly as possible. I, of course, wanted everyone to be cozy and together and was silently horrified that neither one of our children chose to spend much time with us this summer.

The times we were a foursome were generally tense. Charlie fought with his father over the smallest things. He guarded his privacy with a new-found vigilance. He ignored me and tormented his younger brother a little less which, paradoxically, was somewhat of a loss for his brother, who says, ‘I don’t miss him. I miss the idea of him.’

He was checking out and to me it felt too slow and too fast all at once. And frankly, I feel gypped. I feel like I’m being handed early retirement from a job I liked. Why are there countless books on childbirth, breast feeding, and child development and a dearth of material on letting go?

My next-door neighbor, who is only a few years younger than me and the mother of two small children, said wistfully, ‘Sounds good to me. You’re gonna get your life back.’ ‘But I like this life,’ I thought. Then there is my 38-year-old sister-in-law and her very fussy infant daughter. She was weighing the advantages and disadvantages of having a second child quickly, and I blurted out,’Oh, you don’t want to have them only one year apart because then they’ll leave for college back-to-back.’ The look in her eyes made me know she would welcome a college that would take her three-month-old now.

Perhaps the best advice came from a friend at work who said to me in early summer, ‘Just pretend it’s not happening.’ So that’s what I did.

Then towards mid-August I began to unravel. I began telling store clerks and gas station attendants, ‘My son is going to college.’ I divided my whole world, friends and strangers alike, into two camps – those who looked potentially tearful at my pronouncement and those who don’t.

Some of my dearest friends have told me in one way or another to get over it. I don’t love them any less, but they certainly don’t occupy the special place in my heart reserved for one friend who told me the other day that after her son left last year she broke down sobbing in the dairy section of the supermarket as she reached for the whipped cream cheese and suddenly realized that he was the only one in the family who ate it.

I’ve decided these last few months are like the final half hour at work each day. I am a nurse on an acute psychiatric floor and there’s never a day that I don’t check and double check my worksheet and the medication records as I get ready to leave. As I go down on the elevator I’m always wondering if there’s something I’ve left undone or forgotten to pass on to the next shift.

I have that feeling now, the feeling of unfinished business. Have I left something out of my mothering? How can I squeeze in some last-minute words of wisdom and important anecdotal information about life? And how do I let him know how much I love him?

It’s time. I bought the extra-long sheets, the stamps, detergent, toothpaste. I’ve given all the unsolicited advice I have to give. Now I’ve got to believe in the last 18 years. Charlie is not the little round-faced boy on the bus to first grade. He’s a man now on his way out into the world.”

All Things Considered, September 1, 1994; National Public Radio

Kleenex, anyone?

…She’s a woman now on her way out into the world.

…He’s a man now on his way out into the world.

I’ve read this, heard this, and lived with this ‘monologue’ for over twenty years.

I still tear up.

Yes, you’re in good company. At this point, it’s no exaggeration to say thousands of people have heard it, read it, smiled, and wept along with you.

These are important days.

Cherish the days you have and look forward to the days to come. Yes, life will be different.

For all of you.

That, my friend, is why it’s called life!

So, why are you staring at your phone? Go LIVE the one life you’ve been given.

Now is your time to make a difference. The world is waiting for you!