As I sit and write this over the July 4th weekend of 2020, my son’s university – like countless others – has still not finalized their plans for the fall semester. It feels like a billowy cloud of questions is floating above us, silently following us wherever we move about the house.
Will his classes be all online or will he still be walking around campus a couple days a week for in-person lectures?
Will all of his housemates return if all their courses are virtual?
Should he purchase a parking pass next week, not truly knowing if he’ll need one?
What will his final year of college actually be like?
My son is a rising college senior
My son, who towers above me and whose eyes crinkle up charmingly when he smiles, is my baby. Our last child, set to hopefully embark on his very last year of college next month. His departure will mark the eighth and final time my husband and I give those prolonged hugs as we part ways at summer’s end, already looking forward to our next reunion.
As I have come to viscerally understand the contradiction I feel in my gut, this is a day that brings both joy and sadness. And generally, after the sobs of the initial college drop off with your first child, it’s a positive and hopeful day, even if there are still a few wistful tears, shed only after you have left the gaze of your child.
This year is going to be especially difficult to let him go
But this year will be especially difficult for me, as I’m thinking it will be for millions of other college parents. We are all living in surreal and varying states of uncertainty and disbelief. Our emotional roller coasters are sturdy and fierce machines this summer, painstakingly climbing upward, oftentimes by the sheer will of our vigorous optimism. Sometimes seconds later, they plummet downward to murky depths of despair, whipping us violently around tight curves, intermittently causing our heads and necks to ache.
I don’t want to let on to my son just how melancholy I sometimes feel for him this year, and for every college student who will have no real possibility of “normal.” And I feel guilty when I allow my brain to even begin to form certain thoughts.
No football games.
No big parties.
No large gatherings.
No in-person job fairs.
Whenever I consider one of these thoughts, I attempt to quickly push it away and replace it with a statement of gratitude.
We are currently healthy.
We have a roof over our heads.
We have food security.
We are – choose your preferred word – lucky, blessed, privileged. And I never fail to remember that.
The scary thoughts just keep coming
But the sad and sometimes scary thoughts keep coming. Stubborn little voices during moments of quiet, usually at night, when the rest of my family slumbers.
How will he stay healthy among all those students?
How will his mental health hold up?
How will he find a post-graduation job during this economic upheaval?
How will he meet a nice girl and move through the delicate stages of forming a relationship during a pandemic?
Thus far, he seems not to be very worried about any of this, which does provide me a little peace. We as a family have decided that he is definitely going back to his college town – in person campus classes or not.
Besides the fact that a lease has been signed, he needs to be with his peers, for his sake and for ours. It is not normal for a healthy, young man of his age to be at home for such an extended period. Our time of forced togetherness needs to end.
We very much want him to have at least a shot at a slight amount of normal.
But I imagine I will worry about him this last “first” semester almost as much as I did during his first “normal” semester at college. I will worry about his and his housemates’ physical health and their mental wellbeing. I will silently be mourning all that normalcy that will be elusive for our college students. And I will be harboring conflicting thoughts about the impediments that will hinder meaningful human interactions.
The masks instead of the warm hugs.
The plexiglass partitions instead of the enthusiastic handshakes.
The temperature checks instead of the spirited intramural competitions.
The take-out boxes for three or four hungry students instead of the big tables, crammed full of shouting and laughing young adults on the cusp of entry into the real world, which seems so dauntingly unsettled and complicated right now.
Drop-off always makes you consider the risks-now more than ever
In any year, every single college drop-off is a parent’s implicit acceptance of risk. And this year that tolerance will seem amplified. I must keep reminding myself that there is never a guarantee of your child’s safety or happiness or success. You must step back and observe them moving out into a larger sphere, and you must arm yourself with strong doses of positivity and faith.
My own supply of those necessary attributes feels a little diminished right now, so I will begin the emotional work(out) to boost my positivity reps and increase my faith steps, one day at a time.
Because brighter days are ahead.
You Might Also Want to Read:
17 Things to Take Care of Before Your Teen Goes to College Here are the practical items that will be much easier if you take care of them before your teen leaves for college.
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