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

August 27, 2013 | By | Comments (38)
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
  18. Nme

    I have a five month old son…he does yoga feet and jabbers nonsense all day. I’ll stop by next week? ;) Thx for this post. I look forward to raising Jonas but fear I’ll be moving close to campus when he goes off to college! Haha At this point he always falls asleep on my chest and I joke with my friends I’ll be in his college dorm putting him to bed.

    July 18, 2014 at 7:31 am
  19. Liz

    I had to drop off my daughter and on others to go home to and yell dinner is ready or to drive around!!! That was 3 years ago. She will be getting married next year. So again another big event to overcome.

    July 18, 2014 at 8:01 am
  20. Liz

    Sorry, that is “NO” not ON

    July 18, 2014 at 8:02 am
  21. kelly

    Well, I am on the same journey . My only child leaves in 4 weeks. It will certainly be a transition for my me and my husband. Our daughter is the center of our universe. I remind myself daily that all is good. This is what she/we worked for. She will be attending college in NYC. Not far from our home town, yet it seems miles away when I think of closing my eye without her down the hall. I am trying to be strong and most times I am. Then a memory pops in my head… the little girl surfing in the waves, the feel of her heart beat as she sleeps on my lap. How did the time go so fast. In the words of De Seuss.. “don’t cry because its over…Smile because it happened.” So true ! It has been an extraordinary trip. I am blessed and I will continue to blessed. As she spreads her wings and soars for new heights . I will always be there for her, just in a different role. I will no longer be the mom with all the answers. It her turn to pick her path. Now just to get through the dorm drop off and the ride home. To all the parents going through the growing pain like me. We got this! Best of luck to all.

    July 18, 2014 at 8:03 am
  22. Kate M

    I have a 2 month old and a 4 year old you are welcome to hold anytime!

    July 18, 2014 at 8:36 am
  23. Winnie

    When I dropped my oldest son off at college a mere 1 1/2 hours away, I was fine, although his youngest brother melted into tears thinking he’d never see him again. It was watching him walk away from the car after bringing forgotten items a few days later when it hit me. It was worse when he got a house off-campus and took his bed from home! No worried, though, he came back home to live for a year after graduation before moving out permanently, but close by.

    Dropping off son #2 was much harder. First, it was a six hour drive away. Second, he had recently had knee surgery and developed a blood clot which required anti-coagulants and frequent monitoring by doctors we did not know and no transportation to appointments. I had to stay for a couple of weeks for that and to drive him and (he’s a musician) his giant bass to classes since he was on crutches. Leaving him behind about ripped my heart out. Fast forward three years–he has been thriving at this perfect college for him. #3 son is not a student and after graduating high school by the skin of his teeth is living at home and working full-time. He and #4 son both keep our home busy but it is sure quiet if they’re both out. Not sure I will like it when they’re all gone.

    July 18, 2014 at 9:14 am
  24. Gerri

    I will be taking my oldest to college in less than a month. Of course his dad will be there too but let’s face it, he’s there for the muscle of hauling this kids stuff into the dorm. I really do feel like I am losing a limb, best way to describe it at this point. My whole summer has been spent worrying, obsessing, yelling and freaking out that according to society I now have to turn this kid lose. He just figured out the washing machine, he just learned the importance of stain remover, he’s finally figured out making a list for the grocery store is always good! This child of my mine is ready but am I? Thank the lord that I have two more times to get this perfected, granted I have already told the next one he’s not going anywhere (that’s another story) and #3 is already planning his college career at 11! Yikes! My dad told me that when you notice your child starting to make the steps to leaving home then you know you have done your job well, that they want to leave and don’t have to leave is a great success. My #2 son says he’s coming with to “drop-off day” just to see how long it takes me to dissolve in a mess of tears. That’s okay, he just hand me the tissues, hug me and assure me he’s never leaving (not for 2 years anyway).

    July 18, 2014 at 10:24 am
  25. lnmakrown

    I have no children of my own. But your kids are my kids–I’m a college professor. Know that we will take good care of them. This doesn’t mean they will do well at everything, because learning to fail and how to bounce back is an important life skill. This doesn’t mean they will always call home, because learning to be on their own is part of what college should teach. This doesn’t mean they will tell you everything, because adult boundaries are being developed. But do know, they will learn and grow, no matter what happens to them. College is life with training wheels, by graduation the training wheels come off. And that is, after all, what you want — happy, healthy, ready to be successful kids. They’ll come home to you primed for this, but your job and frankly ours as their alma mater, isn’t done, it will have just changed because now we’ll be dealing with full fledged adults, not kids anymore.

    July 18, 2014 at 12:06 pm
  26. Kathleen Jacque

    OMG.. I’m going through this right now. My oldest son will be leaving at the end of Aug. We will drive him to Steven Point. But my summer is a wreak. I start a project.. Then I can’t finish it because I start thinking my baby is leaving.

    July 18, 2014 at 1:01 pm
  27. Jam Wilcox

    I still remember that day. We drove her to school 8 hours from home. Took the while family, all 7 of us because I felt it would be easier on everyone if we all had a mental photo of where she lived, ate, and took classes. We got her settled into her room the first day and spent the next day exploring the campus and then it was time to leave her. We all said our teary good-byes and got in the car to head home. I was sad, but kept reminding myself that this is what 18 years of love, sweat and tears comes to. I was okay until we were about an hour from home and the tears started and I couldn’t stop. Not ugly face, big tears, just a constant flow. I told my husband I felt like my heart was breaking. My mind could reason the whole thing, but my heart said otherwise. I felt this way for at least a month, just that achy heart feeling. Finally, knowing she was doing great at school I relaxed a little. It still is one of the hardest days

    July 18, 2014 at 4:27 pm
  28. Christine Peterson

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post about dropping your firstborn at college. Interesting how in a little over a decade, the dynamics of motherhood have changed. When my first born went off to college, a scholar athlete and all around terrific kid, I was ready. No tears from this Mom. As a matter of fact, if it had been possible to do so without injury, I would have booted Junior out of the car while doing 60 miles down College Blvd, and my husband would have driven the getaway car. I love my kids, but I was ready for them to go.
    My son was and is a great kid, but that last year of high school, well lets just say it helped the separating along. And I was not alone in eagerly anticipated the peace, all my buddy moms were ready for their birds to fly away. Fast forward twenty odd years and kids must be better adjusted these days. Perhaps the Moms are smarter, or learned early on that every thing is easier with a glass of wine.
    So I offer you these words of encouragement, they will come home. You are not off the hook yet, dear ladies. And they will not come alone ,they will arrive with, and not in any particular order, their laundry, a piercing, an overdue Visa bill, tattoos, a girl/boy friend that is totally inappropriate, a cell phone bill minus the cell phone which is lost/stolen, the flu( which both you and their father will get) their tuition bills, their girl/boy friends laundry, the entire sports team, choral society, debate team, some type of foot fungus that they will manage to leave on your shower floor, oh and did I mention the laundry, a cat or dog which they may leave behind with you. Are you feeling better yet? I hope so. I can only offer this advice, enjoy this milestone and the temporary peace that it brings. And don’t cry now, when they leave, you save the crying for when they move home.

    July 18, 2014 at 4:49 pm
  29. Carson

    Any transition has its stresses, of course. Breaking a habit, be it of short- or long-term duration, is never easy. But through our misty moments, how proud we can feel when our children leave home and start their lives’ journeys as fully functional adults. We’ve prepared them well for a world of challenges. They will experience their own struggles and achievements, their own share of heartbreak and joy, and their own disappointments and triumphs. As parents, we must have done something right after all.

    July 18, 2014 at 6:58 pm
  30. Lisa

    Our oldest went to college nearly 1200 miles away. He and my husband left one August morning 6 years ago for the two day drive, and I stood in the kitchen and bawled. We flew him home for Thanksgiving weekend, that was fine. At Christmas, he came home for over two weeks as the dorms closed (small school). I love him with every fiber of my being, but I was ready for him to go back to school. He still left a trail of mess and dirt, and I had not missed that part! I still miss him every day, but way out in the middle of the country he met a wonderful girl, and now I have a second daughter to spoil and love. It all gets easier, especially when there are more kids at home (I have a disabled child that will always be here), but there are bonuses to grown up kids you’ve raised well enough to make it on their own. Less mess and laundry are two, more time and money for traveling with JUST your spouse (a real treat!) is another. I will admit however, when my youngest moves out I will probably need a Xanax, she is the baby after all! You’re also very wise to not compare sending one to college and sending one to Afghanistan, we’re a military family, and that is a wholly different set of emotions. Take care of yourself and the other two kids, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be here before you know it.

    July 19, 2014 at 9:33 am
  31. Erica

    There is something comforting about holding a baby for me as well, luckily I have a friend with a new baby and another who plans one in the future. I always wanted a second, but foramy reasons it does not look like it will happen. I am the mother of an only child. There will not be enough babies to help me when this time comes for us. We own and operate a small restaurant, so there is always a chance out son will take over the business and we would be the ones to leave him to it instead of us leaving him off at college. Only time will tell. I am trying to enjoys six year old while I ponder.

    July 27, 2014 at 7:15 pm
  32. Suzanne

    Try planning the wedding of your oldest and sending the triplets off to college. No one left at home. Quick and painful. Ouch.

    July 27, 2014 at 7:19 pm
  33. Charla

    My last one is leaving for the Navy in 57 days. I “think” I am ready. My oldest as been out on her own for years and has given my 4 grands…the middle will be a senior in college this year…but having my last-born…my baby leave….I am preparing for the worst. Oh, there are good things that go with the last one headed out, and I am excited to know my hubby and I can do the things WE want to do without anyone complaining. But, coming home a night…and only cooking for 2? How do I do that? it’s been 24 years since I only had 2 to cook for. It will be odd…and I may cry from time to time. But, it’s time for a new chapter and I’m ready to being “Part 2″ of my continued journey with my spouse. Good luck, Momma. Oh…and the Skype suggestion earlier…do that!

    July 27, 2014 at 7:28 pm
  34. Mary

    Wow! You know what’s hard? Burying your TEN year old son! You get to have your college students home for weekends and vacations, we get to go to visit our boy at a cemetery !
    Please stop your moaning and groaning, and know that there are much worse things in the world!!!!!

    July 27, 2014 at 8:07 pm
  35. KimS

    I received some good advice when I moved my daughter into college her freshman year. Before you leave and say “see you soon! call me everyday” (lol); take a walk, find a private place, hold each other and cry. Not only does it get rid of the “elephant in the room”, it gives the freshman a chance to release some feelings and to not have to hold it inside in front of everyone else on campus. My daughter said this was the best thing because she “got the worst of it out of her system and didn’t have to suffer in silence”, which I believe is always worse. Of course I continued to cry all day and night and day and night for ever how long, but she didn’t. Do it for them. I have a son leaving in a couple of years and I plan on doing the same, and I realize he probably won’t cry, but just giving him time to take a few deep breaths away from roomies will help. P.S. It will be easier, but not until sophomore year. Take care.

    July 27, 2014 at 10:10 pm
  36. LVQueen1.

    We live close enough that our son will be commuting to college, with me, because I finally decided it was time to finish my degree. We will be each other’s support system and looking forward to this adventure. I get to watch my son spread his wings and fly as he does his own thing while I do mine, We have completely different majors, and we are very proud of him for taking these steps on his own. What most people don’t know is young men and women with ASD ( autistic spectral disorders ) don’t usually make it to college. So far all we’ve done is take him to campus, he’s done the rest. It has taken him longer than some to get done what he needs to do, but he did it. His sense of pride on accomplishing a goal was worth it, watching him struggle through some of the paperwork for financial aid, only asking a few questions and figuring it out for himself. There wasn’t enough financial aid to let him live on campus, but hopefully next year, he will be able to, and truly get the full experience.

    July 28, 2014 at 7:01 am
  37. Donna

    I would like to offer my condolences. My oldest graduated graduated this year and I have cried for the week leading up to him going back and at least a week after he’s been back for four long years. He will not be returning home, he has already rented an apartment two hours away and has a girlfriend(this is another story altogether). I guess what I’m saying is your first born is the hardest to let go, I have had separation anxiety since he was six weeks old and I was supposed to put him in day-care. I ended up being a stay at home mom for almost eight years. The only way I have kept from having a complete meltdown is by being so proud of the man that I raised. He is smart and responsible, handsome and independent, kind hearted and loving. After all that is our job as parents!

    July 28, 2014 at 10:40 am
  38. Caitlin

    Thank you for reading my thoughts and putting them down into elegant and heartfelt words. We take my son to college in another state in 3 weeks. It’s killing me…but he will be fine and somehow so will his mom.
    Thank you.

    July 28, 2014 at 3:43 pm

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