There’s no denying the reality of my firstborn going away to college. Our tribe of five is now a slightly quieter group of four. There are less dishes to clean and laundry to do. I don’t hear “hey ma” as he rolls out of bed when my day’s half done. And I don’t get his teasing pat on the head when I’m at my laptop, working late into the night, and he’s on his way out the door working toward an increasingly independent life.
He’s gone, and the rest of us are here, adjusting to a new family dynamic without the leader our girls have looked up to all their lives. My son has grown up and away, and our tribe will never be the same. It’s a realization that’s sometimes so hard for me to carry that I step back, take a look at it, shake my head, and walk away.
And yet…he’s so happy. I could literally feel his anticipation on the plane ride to school as he metaphorically drummed his fingers on the drop-down table. It’s time to go. It’s time to go. I’ve got to go. Far and away and to an unknown place called Indiana with humid summers, bucolic scenery, and lots of pretty girls. A place where he will no longer live in the long shadow cast by his Type A Mom and will instead start to define himself on his terms: good and bad, right and wrong, moving forward and backward, and sometimes standing still.
When I left his college room more organized than it will ever be from here on out, introductions to parents and new friendships had been made, and I let go from that last hug that lingered a few seconds too long? I felt…surprisingly relieved. I walked away from my only son with lighter steps than I could have ever imagined. Because he’s right where he wants to be. And I’ve done my job.
So with the miles, and the distance, and the infrequent calls that are really more about cash than connecting, I feel alright. The rhythm of our relationship will never be the same, and even though our new cadence and tone are creating sounds I’ve never heard before, I’ve always loved new music. And that’s how I see the future for my son and me. It’s like an exotic dance. Even though I’m no longer choreographing the steps, he’s more than ready to take the lead.
Advice For My Son
(because this is my blog and I can say whatever I want to even if he won’t listen)
- As parents, we spend decades preaching and teaching. “Be a good person.” “Make good choices.” “Do good things.” Now it’s your turn to manage our messages and figure out what moves your needle even a fraction off-center. Find, embrace, and act on the things that matter most. To you.
- Be humble. Just about everyone at college knows more than you do about something, in fact, lots of somethings. Accept that you have a lot to learn and embrace the boundless opportunities to expand your mind.
- Be curious. Not only are questions the fasted way to get an answer, they show you care. “How are you?” and “What do you think?” are good places to start.
- Don’t judge. If you can master this concept before you leave school you’ll be light years ahead of your peers. And your parents. O.K. maybe not your parents but definitely some of your parents’ friends.
- Have fun. Does life get better than college? It does, but with caveats and constraints you can’t yet understand.
- Take risks. The only way to see the nighttime beauty of fireflies flitting through the trees is to walk through a dark forest.
- Don’t spend so much time honing your social life that you ultimately find yourself permanently parked in our basement. Coming home on your terms is a lot more rewarding than coming home on ours.
- Persist. In life, a little bit of bad almost always accompanies any amount of good.
- When friendships haven’t gelled yet and schoolwork is tougher than you thought, accept that you’re going to be a little homesick. We miss you too. More than you know.
- Connect with the not-so-obvious. Befriend someone who seems different. Take a class that doesn’t count toward your major. Visit places that feel foreign.
- Being a teenager is about finding your tribe. Becoming an adult is about finding your voice.
- It’s easy to move with the current, but swimming upstream, though harder, yields far more reward. Think twice about taking the easy way out.
- Be still. If you can get comfortable with a little loneliness, some of your biggest moments will rest on the shoulders of solitude.
- Mistakes are inevitable so don’t run from them. Learn from them instead.
- Talk less and listen more – to professors, upperclassmen, people whose opinions you share, and more importantly, to those that you don’t. Listen with your head. Listen with your heart. Just listen.
- Be purposeful because it’s not what you say, it’s what you do that matters.
- Go to college determined to make the world a better place. If you do, you’ll have succeeded far beyond any other measure.
In addition to the multitude of things that inspire me to write, I’m a contributor to our local community paper, The Castle Pines Connection. Come check out the neighborhood and people who make it meaningful at www.castlepinesconnection.com.