Leaving Home for College

Good morning everyone and welcome to our next installment in the January series on “Moving”. Today we are going straight to the experts for advice about the transition when Little Johnny moves away to college.

As far as I can tell, I have successfully sent three children to college while managing to keep them living at home. The fourth kid is up for grabs but unless the right college grabs him, I will have the honor of four college graduates and zero dorm experiences.

On the other hand, I also have a kid with nothing but dorm experiences and zero college degrees.

There are pros and cons.

But I am obviously not an expert.

I watched a coworker send her son to another state for college and he was homesick and she was optimistic and the week before winter finals that boy got the flu. His entire building got the flu. He called her from the floor of his room and she did what every sensible mom would do: she overnighted him a case of Gatorade, and begged him to pass his finals.

That Christmas break, he came home and refused to leave.

Meanwhile, I know a few Little Johnnys who have managed to go back after Christmas break, and I have some nuggets of wisdom from the moms who survived it:

  1. Believe they are adults. You raised them right and it’s all in there. When needed, your voice is in their head even if it’s screaming “Dumb*ss!” Which will happen many, many times in the first year.
  2. The campus life schedule (especially in a dorm) is not the same as the class schedule. It’s erratic and unscheduled. This means calling home is not a priority! We made a deal to not bother them if they simply called every Sunday to check in. And they did.
  3. College and living away is tough and there are calls home that make you want to rush in and take care of it . Having to give phone advice and help them through life from a distance is HARD and a whole new perspective. This is a reminder to empower and encourage. Follow up with a full glass of wine (coping measure).
  4. Join the parent group on Facebook. Most don’t allow students in so you get to share the feels and get insider info too! I missed this with my first student, but found it with my second. Ours has moderators that have links to info, Senior parents armed with experience in the trenches, invited guests like the Chief of Campus Police, support from parents who live locally and even an Uber driver file. (This is) your support while the student insists they “got this” lol!
  5. Learn what Venmo is and join – this is how roommates share expenses, lunch dates share the check and Mom sends money for a much needed frappacino after a hard test.
  6. I also completely support getting in on the college sports team fun!
  7. It’s that hard realization that they live somewhere else, and have a life outside of you and the small family you had together with all of your kids when they were little. That day in and day out you don’t know what they’re doing, how they’re doing, and that they’re doing it apart from you.
  8. I guess you wonder will they come back and will it ever be the same? But it will never be the same even when they do come home because they are adults now. They leave with their childhood and return with a form of adulthood. I guess that’s how it’s meant to be: it’s the end of an era.
  9. Wow, I didn’t expect the intensity of the sorrow of saying goodbye to him as we send him back across the country today. It almost seems worse than the first time we did this last fall. I’m so thankful that he’s happy and thriving in his college environment, I can’t imagine how hard this would be if he weren’t.
  10. I also thought that it would be easier to say goodbye to them once they left for the first time, but every time they come home for winter break or spring break or summer break it’s equally hard to say goodbye as they go back to school. I feet sad every time. 
  11. I think of how it must feel to be my parents standing on that step, watching their heart go away again and again. I can physically feel the pain of time passing in my body, and it makes me realize how valuable beyond riches it has been to spend these special days together in our cherished home.
  12. And lest these feels and formulas be a wee too much, here is the only idea I had prepared for this moment. A mom has to do what a mom has to do.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecc 3
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Guilty As Charged

The thing about ugly crying is that it should be done in the privacy of your own kitchen, not in the grocery store.

Trying to keep it together somewhere in the canned goods aisle is like putting your finger into the leaky dike and hoping a miracle comes along soon. Like, pronto.

Thankfully, a People of Walmart passed by, pushing a cart full of chips and diet Pepsi, wearing yoga tights in my size without the benefit of having my general svelteness. If she could keep herself packed into those unashamed excuse for pants, then I could probably make it home without tears bursting from my face. Right?

Right.

So I kept my little ugly-cry fest between me, the pantry, and the cereal boxes and after about ten minutes – right on schedule actually – Edna Mode piped up.

She sits in a corner of my head just waiting for opportunities like this, which I attempt to keep at a bare necessity minimum.

“Pull yourself together woman!” she snapped, “You’re Elastigirl! What is this nonsense?!”

I heaved a great sigh.

“I’m only the worst mother ever!  My son didn’t get into the college he wanted. My kids are going to grow up and be homeless and hungry because they didn’t get the job they needed because they didn’t get into the college they needed to because they didn’t have the grades they needed because they didn’t have a mom who sat with them every day in high school making sure they understood chemistry…”

I grabbed another tissue.

“I never even took chemistry! My kids are all smarter than I am! I should have hired a tutor in freshman year. I should have volunteered like I used to in their second grade classroom. I should have worked the snack bar during their volleyball games. I should have filled those college applications out myself, what if he missed his college acceptance because of a clerical error?!!”

I sank down on the linoleum, cradling a can of peaches.

“It’s all my fault. I wasn’t there for him, and now I have to keep him from being homeless and hungry by letting him live here forever!”

Edna watched me wail at this fresh and horrific thought, tapping her tiny foot.

“You have a lot of weird things in your head,” she started.

I glanced over at her, “Uh huh,” said my little sarcastic side.

“You place a lot of importance on this mothering job of yours,” she said.

“Luck favors the prepared,” I reminded her, “but I don’t know how I could’ve ever prepared for this job. I feel like I had his whole little life laid out at six months old, worked my tail off to give it to him, and suddenly the plot went off-script.”

“Just now?” asked E, “that’s some kind of record, darling.”

“I have no idea what happens next.” I looked at the floor in disgust, “Well, except mopping is probably next.”

Mom-guilt. There’s no other guilt like it.

“Words are useless! Gobble gobble gobble gobble!”

“I just worry that I messed something up back there somewhere and it’s too late to fix it.”

“Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost…history became legend, legend became myth…”

“Okay,” I said, standing up, “Who let Galadriel in here?”

“The world has changed,” she continued, “I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost.”

I hung my head, “Yeah, they aren’t little kids anymore. Maybe that’s part of this sadness.”

With a mighty heave, Edna kicked Galadriel out of our headspace.

“Never look back, darling, it distracts from the now,” she scolded.

A voice boomed out: “Remember Who you Are!”

Lion King? Really?

“You got to put your behind in your past,” laughed Pumbaa, as E herded the animals out.

“Look,” I said finally, “I just want all good stuff and no bad stuff for my kids. It’s a mom thing.”

“Well you can’t never let anything happen to him,” squeaked a tiny blue fish, “Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.”

“That’s it!” I demanded, “Everybody grab an exit buddy, I have better things to do than wallow in the shallows.”

I put the peaches on the shelf and stretched my mind around yet another bend in the road for our family. I tried to imagine my Supersuit holding me together as years of growth shaped and reshaped us, much like a good pair of yoga pants. Ahem.

“Well, you’ll look fabulous anyway. Your suit can stretch as far as you can without injuring yourself and still retain it’s shape. Virtually indestructible, yet it breathes like Egyptian cotton.”

“Thanks, E,” I said as she faded away, “a yoga class is just what I’ll do next.”

“Don’t make me beg, darling, I won’t do it you know.”

Don’t make me beg, dahling…I won’t do it you know.