College and The Long Good-Bye

August 23, 2014 § 7 Comments


I know it’s different for each kid stepping on to campus for the first time, and there are different kinds of angst for every parent. Happy. Proud. Sad. Nervous. But we adjust. After all, we’ve been saying good-bye for years.

It starts when they’re born, really. Almost right away we’re mesmerized by what they can do next, and then next, and then next. In our enchantment, even as we hold them close, we encourage more independence. We cherish their baby steps, we applaud their successes and cheer them on to greater achievements.

Even as we can’t imagine a life without them, without holding their hands, without their precious little hugs, without sharing their daily joys, triumphs and struggles, we reward their moving on and needing us less.

We give them roots to stand steady and wings to fly high. It’s all rather wonderful until the time comes – the previously unimaginable time – when they actually do take flight.

Oh, we know it’s coming. We try to prepare ourselves. We know that to flourish in life they need to grow and leap and land on their own two feet. We know that one day they won’t need or want to hold our hand. But when the time comes, we ache.

Even though they’ll be back in a few hours time, we ache on their first day of kindergarten. Our babies, so grown up.

And even though, as time goes by, they unconsciously help us to let go ~ the infuriating rolling of the eyes (not my child!) ~ and even though they’ve tried us and challenged us and worried us, at times seeming like some alien creature in human teenage form ~ when the time comes to say good-bye, we ache.

It’s a good-bye long coming. Even though we’ve pushed and reassured and supported every step of the way, even though we knew it would come, even though sometimes we thought we were ready and even though they may have helped us ~ we don’t really want the good-bye. But it comes.

And so the inevitable moment arrived for me. I join the ranks of empty nesters, feeling a bit displaced after 18 years of devotion to this beautiful being I brought into the world.

I’ve been fairly stoic, I think. Intellectualizing the whole process, waiting for the dam to break ~ which, yes, it does about an hour away from our destination. My heart is all I feel, except for tears drifting down my cheeks, knowing the hour is near ~ the hour when she’ll stay and I’ll go.

But I pull myself together, not to give it away, and I think it works because she seems to have been oblivious to my quiet emotional burst. And I manage just fine through the unloading, unpacking, helping to put things away in her cozy new dorm room. I stay outwardly upbeat, calm, cool, collected – parental. I take her out to dinner. And then the wave returns, because the time is almost here, for real, and this time there’s no hiding it ~ the wave breaks and I don’t care. As long as I don’t make a big scene, we’re good. No wailing, sobbing, grabbing by the ankles. The last thing she needs is to worry about Mom. But it doesn’t hurt to let her see “I’m gonna miss you!.” (As if she doesn’t already know.)

Because this time she won’t be back in a few hours; it’ll be more like a few months. And that cycle will repeat for the next four years, becoming our new normal. And I’ll get used to it.

Oh but it’s hard to say good-bye. All I feel is my heart. Proud, aching and hopeful all at once.

We walk out together ~ one last hug ~ and as she heads to a new student event in a sea of orange, I see the spark in her step, the twinkle of excitement in her eye, a readiness to take on her new world, and I get a vision of the much smaller version of herself, the indomitable, “here I am!” little girl, ready for life’s adventures.

And I’m grateful. It’s time.




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§ 7 Responses to College and The Long Good-Bye

  • Pat…my daughter is a senior at SU and in this day and age of technology it’s a lot easier to be in touch. We text and talk each day, sometimes several times a day, (as she walks between classes). She loves the school. For her a perfect fit of academics and athletic and social endeavors. She studied abroad last semester in Prague and this semester is an ambassador for the program at SU. If your daughter is inclined to some fun and athletics have her look up the SU Triathlon Club. My daughter is co-captain.


  • The first ‘pull away’ was tough….real ‘dad’ tough. A long, deep, tight strapping of the arms around my little girl who only the day before used my shoulders as a crow’s nest to scout for ‘froggies’ as we circle the pond learning the names of things. She’d always find the toughest ones and proclaim…. “I’ve got good lookin’ eyes Dad!”

    Some tears squirt out ‘I’ll be ok Dad….’ The reply came suddenly….’It’s not you I’m worried about…. ‘

    There’s a big hole left there. But then came the homesickness, the calls about ‘so what do I do about….’, and that first ‘home for the holidays hug, complete with a happy sob….’ that breaks a guy down, because she’s your little girl again and you both know it.

    Holiday time becomes syrup. Thick, sweet, full, so full a spoon will stand in it. You store it like fat for the winter hibernation that will soon arrive as you pack them back off. A little less traumatic, a lot more confident. They thrive, you learn to survive.

    Spring rolls around, they return eager to be home (thankfully for me), and see home…. as home. A place they are from, belong, belong to, and perhaps recognize ‘as not so bad after all’. But like Snow Bells, Spring Break is soon over, as we wait for the full blossoming of the end of the school year for their return; like Geese, our Buzzards, and all our favorite song birds who ditch us for warmer climes…. their return is our reawakening, revival.

    What arrives resembles more of an adult than that girlish girl that pushed off months ago. She’s done her own laundry, got herself off to classes while working a job, learned her way around;where to go; where NOT to go; chosen new friends who marvel at her ability to rattle off names of birds, trees, and even the sounds of ‘froggies’ and lots of other useless information she gathered aloft on that Crow’s Nest.

    As there’s time the stories roll out. The juice that’s pressed from each anecdote becomes the syrup we store all summer for the fall whose colors won’t quite be as full; since the eyes of her ‘child’ aren’t here to gasp “Oh there’s my favorite tree!”

    But we will notice it for her…. smile, and get lost in a memory, and remember a similar tone in our own parents voice. We suddenly understand where it came from. Love you Mom. Wish you were here. Love you Dad. Glad you are….. Best wishes Ms. Saxton.


  • Just dropped my daughter back into the “sea of orange” for her senior year. It has been a wonderful experience for her, and the drop-offs do get easier!

    Liked by 1 person

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