To My Freshman Son, Why Aren’t You Happy To Be Home?

Months, weeks, days, minutes. It felt like another birth. My stomach even clenched with anticipation. I couldn’t wait for you to arrive.

And then you did. You greeted the dogs first. You met our new puppy, Auggie.

I stood. I watched. I waited.

You finally strode toward me. I hugged you with such intensity. One arm reached around your broad back. The other dabbed at (or dried) my damp cheeks.

My college freshmen looked like he didn’t want to be back at home. (Twenty20 @nei.cruz)

My college son’s first homecoming

The Sound of Silence

After the long 12-hour drive, I sensed silence may be what you needed. What I didn’t realize is that I needed it, too. My brain had become noisy.

So, I slumped on the second step. My shoulders sagged in the stained, soft T-shirt. I didn’t care about the mosquitoes that flew through the open door. Normally, this would bug the heck out of me. I swatted one who gnawed at my calf.

As you, Zoe, and dad unpacked the van, I sat there staring. Processing. Pondering. I don’t think I blinked. I just wanted to soak it in. 

It already seemed I’d missed a lifetime of growth with you. I know that sounds a bit “extra.” But that’s how it felt at the time. 

Before you even said hello, my heart connected with yours. Words weren’t needed.

The Freshman Shift

You have shifted. Your stride is bolder. Your affect is self-assured. I keep imagining peacock feathers fanning behind you.

You look like you don’t want to be here. You are agitated and annoyed. THIS I did not anticipate. To be honest, I thought I’d prepared myself for this moment. But I guess that’s like rehearsing for grief–you just can’t.

I knew it would be different. It should be. A day at college is like a year. The connecting, comradery, and community is beyond words.

Uneasy and uncertain, quite honestly, is how I felt when we left you in August. What parent willingly sends a kid to college during a raging pandemic? Did we make a mistake? Would you be okay?

But it was time for you to leave the nest. You were definitely ready and I was proud of you. I knew this experience would be extraordinary. The bond you’d form with your peers would be like no other freshman class.

Home for the Holidays

And here you are. Home in one piece. Not just healthy, but robust and radiant. So why do I feel sad?

Your sister busted me. She spotted another tear trickling down my cheek. She notices everything. I often joke it’s like I live with a human periscope.

How could I explain these emotions to my sixteen-year-old daughter when I didn’t even understand them myself?

The first few days you were home, I felt edgy, irritable, and confused. I gave you space. I didn’t ask questions. I stifled and swallowed my frustration.

Why Aren’t You Happy to Be Home?

By the end of the week, I grew tired of your James Dean brooding demeanor. I lost it. We rarely fight and my uncharacteristic combustion shocked me as well.

It was Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday. I already felt a bit blue because our New York family couldn’t be with us for the first time in decades. The house seemed too empty, too quiet. I can’t remember (nor do I want to) what comment you made. Or maybe it was an eyeroll or nonchalant look? But it was maddening.

Where’s the joy? Why aren’t you happy to be home? What’s going on? These questions, which began as tiny kernels, started popping all over my head. And I couldn’t contain myself any longer.

Pointing my finger toward the door, I asked you to go outside with me. I might’ve even raised my voice. I definitely used a few expletives. Honestly, I didn’t recognize myself. Your brown eyes, nearly identical to mine, stared at me in shock.

My Emotional Earthquake

You don’t know what happened after our chat. I collapsed onto the chaise in my bedroom. I wept, wailed, and shook with scary intensity. I journaled in between wiping my nose. I felt melancholy. Dejected. My heart hurt. Where was the joy? You know those “we are reunited, and it feels so good” images that flash on social media and in movies?

Dad asked me to come down and watch the parade. He knows how much I love this silly but sentimental tradition. I flatly said no.

He finally came upstairs. I couldn’t even speak. The aftershocks of this motherhood earthquake surprised me. I told him to please leave me alone. Then my phone dinged and the downpour ceased. I was depleted. The last thing I wanted to deal with a stupid text.

I grudgingly grabbed the phone. And I’m so grateful I did. My son texted a heartfelt apology.

We wrote back and forth. We processed. We expressed ourselves honestly. And I finally joined everyone on the brown, weathered couch. I thought about how many memories we’d made in this room. 

The parade was over. And so was my pity party. I watched the parade the next day by myself. Braising the brisket, I grinned as another massive float filled the tv screen. As I did, I thought how ironic that I was alone for the first time in months. 

We Needed to Recalibrate–Our Family Reset

It’s a month now that our party of four is under the same roof. Tears have been replaced with smiles. We’ve gotten into a groove. We needed to reset and recalibrate. So, we did.

After deep reflection, I realized much of what we envision is not always reality. That’s one of the clearest lessons I’ve learned in 2020: Acceptance of what is (or is not).

I am grateful for my greatest teachers—my two teens. Parenting them requires me to go inward. They make me a better person.

And to my son…you’ll always be my boy. You made me a mother and being your mom, through all phases, is the greatest gift and most humbling honor my life.

More to Read:

Get Ready for the Longest College Winter Break, Ever

About Dara Levan

Dara Levan is a writer, storyteller, podcaster, and founder of Every Soul Has a Story. She lives her life with passion and on purpose. Her intention is to impact the world with integrity, love, and meaning…one word at a time. Dara graduated from Indiana University with a B.A. in English and minor in journalism and earned her M.S. at Nova Southeastern University. Connect with Dara on Instagram or Facebook @EverySoulHasAStory and find her podcasts on iTunes. You can visit Dara’s website

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