‘Where Is Home Now?’ Asked My Son as He Returned to College

Yesterday I dropped off my son at the airport to go back for the second semester of his freshman year. He is very laid back. I am very much not laid back. Our relationship exists precariously in between these two poles.

He goes to school 1600 miles away. The distance has been challenging, but it’s also been good, and I mean for me. A year ago, we were not talking very much. It was short staccato questions like — Did you schedule your appointment? Can we get more waffles? Where are you going? Not a lot of substance. Many one-word answers. It was a long and painful year.

We had forced family time (emphasis on forced) that didn’t go well — lots of eye-rolling and loud audible sighs, and again I mean me. Eighteen months ago, I wasn’t sure he would go to college. He seemed only lightly invested in high school.

saying goodbye
Freshman year was transformational for my son. (via Jenn Fortner)

In a flash of anger, my son said he would leave home and not come back

High school during a pandemic was spirit-crushing for both of us. Two years ago, he said angrily, “Once I leave here, I’ll probably never come home.” But I was wrong about college, and he was wrong about not coming home. Luckily, we were both wrong about many things.

The first semester of college was transformational for him in every single way. He was tossed into a new environment, which he said he wanted. A fresh landscape of people, climate, classes, structure, and space was a massive test for him. Far outside his comfort zones, like all young adults, he had a lot to navigate, and he has survived and, in some areas, thrived.

It was not all perfect. He cracked his phone on the first day of class. He lost his key card the first week. There was a bomb scare. There was/is no hot water in his bathroom. The fire alarm goes off often because college kids can be boneheads and set off fire alarms. In his case, thousands of freshmen pour out onto the front lawn each time the alarm sounds. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night, but he has been rolling with it. I have been gritting my teeth. 

I miss my son so much while he is at school

I have missed him so much. Hungry for tidbits about what he is experiencing if he likes it if he is well, and if he is eating vegetables. I’m grateful for FaceTime, texting, and phone calls now like never before. And somewhere amid all of it, he not only started reaching out to tell us things but also became grateful and poetically told us so. He thanked us for everything we did to get him there, for supporting him, for our sacrifices, for believing in him, and for letting him make this choice. So then I missed him even more. 

Having him home for a month this winter was a joy. Like a celebrity sighting every day. Him in the kitchen. Him picking up burgers for all of us. Him on the couch. Him warming up the car. Him eating all the chips. He fit in a haircut, teeth cleaning, a passport photo, seeing friends, working a bit, and hanging out with his family. The things adults do. 

On the way to the airport, he talked about what he wanted to do differently this semester. He wants to get more involved. Maybe he will join a club. He would like to make the Dean’s List. He said he wanted to read again. Not just for school, just read. He wants to READ??? Be still my heart. I would have fallen off my chair hearing these words, but I was driving. A year ago, I could not even imagine this man who wanted to read sitting in the passenger seat. 

Where is home now? Asked my son as he returned to college

But then he said, “I do feel kinda weird.” 

“Weird, how?” I resisted not adding 500 more words to my inquiry which is one of my special talents. 

“I don’t know. Just…I’m looking forward to returning, but it was good to be here…where even is home now?” 

Where even is home now indeed

And as if falling back through time, I remember my 19-year-old self. Feeling like home was different, but school was still a foreign place. Until it wasn’t. And I distinctly remember saying to my mom, “When I go back home…” but by then, I meant school where my friends, my boombox, and my experiences were. 

And I told my son it’s normal. He’s in the in-between. And so much of adulthood is sitting between and waiting for the new normal to feel comfortable. To get the other side of a big challenge. So for all the young adults out there that are living in the in-between…we parents have been there before. Some of us are there now. We are here for all of you until you find a home. 

More Great Reading:

How To Cope When You’re Missing Your Big Kid So Much It Hurts

College Care Packages from Home: 50 Great Ideas

About Jen LarsenFortner

Jen Fortner lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children and the best dog on earth.  She has a MSW degree that never gets used other than to diagnose family members at holiday gatherings. She has a blog at mymildlifecrisis.com where she tells stories about her family that they never read.

Read more posts by Jen

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