So this past weekend we took our oldest to college, a simple right of passage that most parents experience. The problem is that although he may be prepared, nothing really prepares you for that moment that you walk away sending your “baby” off to conquer the world. I remember his first day of kindergarten. He walked right into the school, kissed us goodbye, and his journey began. He has always been fiercely independent, so I know that he is ready for this next phase and I am too, I think. I have watched this boy stay focused, work hard, play hard, love hard, and I stand back in awe of who he is becoming. I know all parents must feel something similar about their children, but going through the college “drop off” for me was like having an out of body experience, and for that I was not prepared. We loaded the car the night before, woke up early the next day, and our family of five was off. We chatted on the way there, excited for what was to come. He is taking a path that many don’t in that he has chosen to pursue his degree while participating in the Navy ROTC. He has always wanted to pursue a job in military engineering so he decided that this was a good start.
We arrived on campus and checked in for NROTC and then headed to his dorm to get him moved in. We had tons of fun with his roommate and his family setting them up, but then we had to head back to the orientation for the program. In came the Navy Captain giving us loads of information , too much to even begin to digest, and then he called the group up. There he stood in a line with the others and the oath began.
I watched this handsome, strong young man promise to serve, protect, and defend his country. There were few dry eyes in the room. I had no idea what to expect and this was completely overwhelming. In this moment I saw a strength I have never seen from him. He was so deeply serious and his focus was unwavering. As I think back to that moment my eyes fill with tears again. When their oath was completed the group left and we were told that we would meet back up shortly to say our final goodbyes. SAY WHAT!!!??? I had no idea that we were not going to get to be with him for the rest of the day. My heart was heavy and there was a pit in my stomach. I couldn’t believe that this was it, eighteen years of being together almost every day and now we had only twenty minutes. We finished our parent session and then headed back over to meet the “midshipman.”
I couldn’t say a lot because every time I tried to speak the tears would begin. I was trying to be strong, although inside I was failing miserably. We took our photos, spent our last few minutes together, hugged him so tight that it hurt, and then the band-aid was ripped off. Wow, that was rough!! We got back into the car and I watched a piece of my heart walk away. The silence was eerie. We all sat without speaking and all I could think about was that this is our new norm. It will be just four of us in the car, four of us at dinner, and four in our house. We completed a few more things on campus, and then we headed home. At dinner that night we chatted about what an amazing experience it was to be part of the Navy ceremony. Our younger daughter and son both beamed with pride about their big brother, which was pretty darn cool. In bed that night, the tears quietly rolled again and I prayed that he would be safe and successful in all he does.
I woke the next morning thinking about my child. This child that I have watched grow through the years. He’s made countless mistakes, had countless successes and countless failures, and I thought about how much I’m going to miss him. You see, at this stage of the game I don’t just love him, I really, really like him. He’s hysterically funny, down to earth, and one of the best people I kmow, and not having him with us everyday leaves a void. But I needed to remember that this was not about ME! It was about him chasing his dreams. Then all of the sudden a picture popped up on my Facebook page of the NROTC group. There he was in his Navy camo, looking like he had completely transformed in one night. The pit that I felt became an unbelievable gush of pride, so much so that I couldn’t stop crying, but now they were tears of joy. Tears that he is spreading his wings and doing the things that we have always wanted for him. He is using his skills and all that he has worked for to achieve his dreams.
As I sat at dinner again last night I thought, someone is missing from my dinner table and although I don’t like that he’s gone, I’m pretty sure we’re all exactly where we’re supposed to be. And for that, I am eternally grateful!! When you are feeling sad, and you will, stop focusing on your child leaving you, because this isn’t about you. It is about them. Focus on their excitement, their happiness, and their future. Focus on the fact that this is what you’ve wanted for them since the day they were born. They need to see that you believe in them, and have faith that they will succeed. You do not want their last memory of you to be sobbing inconsolably in a puddle on the ground. It’s ok that they see tears, but they should also see your pride. Wait until you pull away to let the big tears flow. Big hugs to all those who have children heading away for the first time. I know just how you feel. But may they be exactly where they are meant to be as well, and in the mean time there’s always wine! That’s my dish.