A Son Leaves for College, and Mom’s Life Miraculously Goes On

August 27, 2013 | By | Comments (17)
car-baby_300My oldest child, my firstborn son, went to college on Saturday. I say “went,” although my husband and I (and my two other sons, and my father-in-law-with-the-mini-fridge) dropped him off. I say “dropped him off,” although it was actually a slow separation, like a boat going down a ramp into the water and then gradually disappearing into the distance. And I say “separation,” although I have texted him about 50 times in 72 hours and soon he will be so tired of me that he may actually change his phone number.

I realize my life is not over. I realize that I have two more children who need me, if only to yell up the stairs when it’s time for dinner and drive them around in a car that smells like four years of sneakers worn without socks. And yet, I have been able to think of little else this summer than the fact that he was going to leave us, hence my absence from Adventures in Chaos—and, for that matter, many other areas of life where I am usually present. I have been fuzzy and distracted and am not willing to blame hormones or depression. Basically everything that went wrong this summer could be traced back to “He is going to college.” One friend told me that dropping a child off at college is fine once it’s all over; it’s the anticipation that’s the worst. Another friend told me that having her son at college was like having a limb amputated. A few friends sent me this story from the Washington Post. I almost can’t bear to read it.

There is something so abrupt about this transition, something that makes me think there should have been room for negotiation. I remember when he went to kindergarten, which began with an hour on the first day, then a couple of hours the second day, then a half day, and finally a full day in the second week. This kindergarten transition was quite annoying at the time, because it seemed completely stupid, and I thought he was ready for a full day from the get-go. But now I would like to formally request college half days (or, given the fact that he is seven hours away, half weeks) for at least the first semester. Because this time Mom isn’t ready. Is there someone I can call to arrange that?

There have been no thunderstorms of sobbing, which I was anticipating. But there has been a bit of drizzle every day. My sons predicted that I would burst into tears the moment I entered the dorm room, and I take some small, cold satisfaction in reporting that that did not happen. One of my colleagues at Real Simple told me that, when her mother took her to college, she began to drive away, crying, until she saw a woman in the parking lot with a baby. She went over to the woman and asked if she could hold her baby. The woman said yes. (We will put aside for a moment the wisdom of handing your child over to a crying complete stranger. I mean, what kind of mother would do that?) And then my colleague’s mother felt better, and she could drive home. Anyone out there who has a baby: My office is at the corner of 51st Street and 6th Avenue in New York City. I’ll be waiting.


  1. Melissa

    Lol I can understand how you feel. I was not ready for summer to be over and them to go back to school. I know I had work to do but its been super hard. Its a stepping stone that we all take some time in our life. We must let them spread their wings and let them fly. They know where home is and we will always be there for them. You did a great job on the post and I know you are just waiting for thanks giving to come around when he can come home. Enjoy what you have!

    August 27, 2013 at 4:59 pm
  2. Amy

    I understand how it is I have two kids and last year mine went to college. I was bursting in tears that my daughter was already on her own how the time flies by. Why don’t you Skype with him every few days and see how he is. That’s what I did when my daughter went to college it made me feel a little better. Best regards!

    August 27, 2013 at 7:08 pm
  3. Rhonda

    the hardest issue is when your youngest baby leaves for college…and your life does change. You are happy and sad, excited and stunned…

    August 27, 2013 at 7:08 pm
  4. janesmom

    That Washington Post article did me in. And my oldest is in 5th grade. Ugh.

    August 27, 2013 at 7:20 pm
  5. Anniesmom

    My daughter moved in last Saturday for her second year. My friends last year expected me to collapse sobbing when she left since I raised my only child by myself from birth. I love her to death. For 18 years she and I were the lights of each other’s lives day in and day out. There were sad moments; there still is. But she’s so happy where she is (four hours away) and plays lacrosse on a great time with a terrific coach. What got me through the sad times was the thought of how she was only four hours away and not being sent off to Afghanistan as a colleague of mine has shipped off two of his sons for multiple tours. She came back heathy and sound. And now she’s back up there. Good luck. It’s a wonderful time to see them mature and grow. Is it any consolation knowing I was shocked you were old enough to have a son in college??

    August 27, 2013 at 7:49 pm
  6. MollyC

    My youngest son turned 9 today. I posted a few refrains of an old song I love on FB to wish him a happy one…

    May you always walk in sunshine
    Slumber warm when night winds blow
    May you always live with laughter
    For a smile becomes you so

    And may you always be a dreamer
    May your wildest dream come true
    May you find someone to love you
    As much as I love you

    August 27, 2013 at 9:05 pm
  7. Gina

    We dropped our oldest one off on campus a week ago. Like you, I’ve drizzled a little everyday. Today, this storm cloud finally burst. My thunderstorm finally arrived and slowly faded… until I read this. I know we will all make it through. I am counting down the days until he comes home for the weekend. Until then, I am going to soak up every minute we have with his younger sister and brother. It won’t be much longer before they are in his shoes. Good luck to you and your family :)

    August 27, 2013 at 9:15 pm
  8. Jan C.

    My oldest went to our alma mater, an hour away. I thought, “no big deal, he’s an hour away.” My birthday was about 2 weeks later. The entire, long, Ryan-less weekend, I kept bursting into tears and didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Finally I realized that it was probably the first time in 19 years that he hadn’t helped me celebrate my birthday. The good news is that you do kind of get over it. But then, I still had 4 more kids at home. When my youngest moves out, I’m toast.

    August 27, 2013 at 10:33 pm
  9. Judy

    My son is a High School Senior and I know this day is coming. In fact we prepare for it almost every day, looking at schools, taking tests, preparing applications etc.. I hope when it comes we will both ready! However if anyone has a time machine I could use call me!

    August 28, 2013 at 8:19 am
  10. Anita

    I can tell you it gets easier..my twin daughters are now Juniors, and one drop off(what a silly term I know) was virtually pain free, she’s in an apartment so we put together the big stuff, and left her with plenty of unpacking and decorating to complete. The other was like starting over again, as she’s transferred out of state to play softball, nearly 1200 miles from home. I cried big wet sobbing tears as we hugged good bye. Good grief it was messy. I’m lucky, my girls text or call me often, a warm feeling that they do still love me, and need me just a little, even if it’s only for money.

    August 28, 2013 at 10:34 am
  11. Leslie

    Last summer, I had a rising kindergartner and the “drizzle” lasted all summer for me. I couldn’t figure out what my funk was all about until the day I dropped him off for his first full day of kindergarten. I sobbed while he looked at me and said, “Why are you crying, Mommy?” After that first day, though, I felt mentally more competent than I’d felt in months. It’s amazing what the subconscious does…

    August 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm
  12. Nancy

    I will be “dropping” my oldest daughter off tomorrow at the airport for her 10-month study abroad in France!. She has been 1800 miles away for the past two summers working at a summer camp and then last year 2 hours away at college. I actually did okay for all of that but this is really hitting me hard. I know there will be tears but mostly for her happiness and joy of living her dream.

    August 28, 2013 at 1:53 pm
  13. Liz

    My daughter went into first grade this year. She’s on her third day of school and as we were walking there this morning I heard a little girl calling her name. It was one of her friends in another class. They walked off together leaving me behind. As I watched her go I felt my heart sink a little as I realized that we are already going down the road where her friends will begin to take preferance over me. It’s as it should be, but I already miss the little girl that was always reaching for my hand.

    August 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm
  14. KimW

    We just dropped off our daughter for her second year; I shouldn’t tell you this, but it didn’t get easier! Your lovely article was a comfort – it’s nice to be reminded I’m not alone in these feelings. And if you haven’t already read the Washington Post article, maybe wait a while. There are a couple of lines that were kind of rough!

    August 28, 2013 at 2:31 pm
  15. Andrea

    I have a colleague that dropped his eldest at college last weekend. When asked how it went, he looked at me and asked, Did you ever think about how your parents felt the day they brought you to college? And I said, no- they sort of dropped me and ran. I was hoping maybe for lunch, but they took off and left me to my own devices. He said, ‘Exactly! And now I know why. It was awful. It feels awful. We know he’s in the right place, but my wife and I just can’t get past the silence in the house. And his younger brothers keep asking us.. What do you think he’s doing ..now?’ I read the Post article too, ..I didn’t have the heart to forward it to him. We just started our only child at middle school last week. I thought that was tough. Clearly, we are just getting started….

    August 28, 2013 at 4:50 pm
  16. Barbara

    In my never-ending (unsuccessful) quest not to be on Hoarders, I’ve decided to read some of the books I bought and never got around to reading and donate what I don’t want to our library bookstore and organize the rest. I just finished Child of Mine , a book of essays about the first year of motherhood. One of the essays was Making It Work:My Life as a Career-Minded Mother by Kristin van Ogtrop! It was a truly great piece, and now I’m reading about her son going off to college! My own son is a senior this year so my husband and I will be seeing him off next year. I think it will hit dad harder than it will me!

    September 5, 2013 at 5:36 pm
  17. atn

    My first one went to a university in the same city and then moved 8 hours away… My 2nd one did a couple of years of community college, living at home, and now lives a couple of hours away finishing up her undergrad degree. The first one is back at home due to the economy and no job after her graduate degree was completed! And I still have one more to go….. Some nests are never empty, but I rather like it like this……. I think………….

    September 10, 2013 at 11:19 am

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