Our Before And After College Drop Off Photos Speak Volumes

I find myself looking at a photo. It’s not just any ordinary, everyday photo…it’s the photo my husband took of me as I hugged my daughter the moment we were about to leave her at her dorm to begin her freshman year of college. I had no idea he had taken the photo. It was not a planned photo opp. I would have never allowed this very personal moment to be staged and archived for all eternity (or for at least as long as digital photos will last).

Looking at it now, though, I am very grateful for this photograph that captured such an emotional moment in time. I am happy that I was unaware of the photo until very recently, however. It would have been too painful to look at.

Before and after college drop off photos

There were other photos, too. There was the one of her and her younger sister smiling atop her lofted bunk bed depicting a Pinterest worthy decorated space, complete with Pottery Barn Teen comforter and “artsy” wall decor. This was the one we posted on social media for the world to see. The “Insta-worthy” photo showed that we had it all together, we were ready for this “college thing,” and we had the stylish dorm to prove it.

Before and after college drop off photos

We would have never posted the one my husband took. It was too real, too raw for us to show how we really felt.

You see, my first-born is an empath, a “feeler.”  She has been ever since she was born. It’s a wonderful trait because it makes her passionate and empathetic. She is a musician and loves theatre and filmmaking. Being a “feeler” makes her better at all of those things she enjoys so passionately. On the flip side, it can also be a curse, because she feels everything more strongly than most.

New situations were often a struggle for her as a young child, and I was concerned about how this college transition would affect her. Those first few weeks were not easy. She went through sorority recruitment, and had a negative experience and decided it wasn’t for her, so she dropped out after 3 days. That made the first weekend in the dorm pretty rough for her. Watching all of the other girls receive bids was very painful, even though she had chosen her own course.

Fortunately for her, she lived close enough to home to be able to come back for the weekend so she would not have to be in the heart of all the sorority festivities. That situation would eventually be resolved in her favor, as she received a bid from a sorority after recruitment ended from a group she absolutely loves. It was a bit of a non-traditional sorority recruitment, which was fitting for my free-thinking daughter.

There were days where things went really well, and days where she would be so stressed out that she would call on the verge of tears. There was that one night when she actually called at midnight in a full-out cry from the steps outside her dorm (I cannot remember why she was upset now), but some stranger (or two) had walked by and offered her encouragement and tried to impart to her that she was not alone.

This night stands out to my husband and me as one of the worst we have had. Having your child distraught and not being able to do anything about it is one of the most gut-wrenching feelings that ever existed. Those moments are when you have to trust that God is using those experiences to grow your child’s faith. I will forever be thankful to those strangers, whom I believe God placed in her path. But note…we don’t remember now why she was so upset. Feelings are fleeting, and It’s important to try to keep things in perspective.

Time has passed, rather quickly I might add, and she has completed her first year of college. She has a 4.0 GPA, sings in the Schola Cantorum at her University, is involved in her sorority, and sings with the worship team for our church’s campus ministry. She survived a break-up of a 14-month high school relationship with a few normal emotional scars to show for it. She moved back home for the summer, and brought all of that Pinterest worthy dorm gear with her.

Funny how it doesn’t look as “Instaworthy” all strewn out over the floor of our spare bedroom.

She just got her first part-time job, and in August will be moving into an apartment with two great young women whom she met this year. She is well on her way to “adulting.” Her Dad and I could not be prouder of her.

We recently helped her move her things out of the dorm, which, by the way, is much less stressful than moving them in! I made sure my husband took a photo of my daughter and me in the empty dorm room. The emotions on our faces are so different than they were on the day we left her. She has been through so much this year; some wonderful experiences, and some pretty awful ones.

Because we are so close, I feel as I have been through it with her. With any kind of growth, I believe we must experience some pain. Which brings me back to that first picture. My husband was surprised when I asked him to “share” his photo with me. He wondered why I would want to look at it again and put myself in the position to remember those feelings. But, for me, being able to compare the “before and after” photos was very healing.

I believe that photo shows the fear of the unknown and the loss of childhood that comes with leaving home. It’s as if she were a caterpillar about to create her cocoon (maybe myself as well). Now that freshman year is over, I believe she has begun to shed her cocoon.

My hope is that by sharing this story, it will help others whose transition isn’t all “Instagram” perfect.

If your kid is one of those who can leave home with a smile and never look back, then I say “hooray”…be happy for them. But if you have one of those “feelers” you may have a few sad looking photos to look back on as they are about to enter their cocoon. But take heart, have faith, and pray harder than you ever have and chances are you will see beautiful butterfly wings emerging just like we do.


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About Kathy Wetsell

Kathy Wetsell is a full-time mother to two teen daughters. She has been married to her husband, Barry, for 26 years. She enjoys volunteering in the community, crafting and reading fun fiction and books about psychology, parenting and bible studies. She has recently begun writing about her experiences from the last 19 years of raising humans. She resides in Fayetteville, Arkansas with her family and her two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, but will always consider Texas to be her “home.”

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