I Never Expected That One Word Could Mean So Much to Me

Last year, shortly after moving my first-born into his freshman dorm and hugging him goodbye with tears in my eyes, I learned which type of college student he was going to be. The type that does not feel the need to call home.

I should have known. He has always been independent and mature, so much so that my friends called him hombrecito (little man) as a child. But one thing is to expect him to need me less than the average eighteen-year-old living on his own for the first time, and another is to confirm it.

One word from my son will have to suffice. (Photo credit: Shilo Zapata)

Calls with my son were short and devoid of information

Much to my dismay, I realized quickly that the planned weekly phone calls I so eagerly waited for were a burden. Our conversations were rushed and one-sided. They felt like I was trying to open a safe without the code.

“How was your week?” “Good

“Do you like your classes?” “Yes”

“How are you getting along with your roommates?” “We’re good

I had imagined that missing home would make him want to talk, but as usual, I had to gently probe to get anything more than a couple of words out of him, only this time, there would be no more late-night talks on our couch where he would open-up and we would laugh. I could no longer look into his eyes to gauge his feelings, and the music he played (which was always a telltale sign of his mood) was gone.

“Goodnight” is the word we exchange via text every night. (Photo credit: Shilo Zapata)

I moved to a nightly “proof of life” text

The reality was that this brand-new young man did not need to talk to me as much as I needed to talk to him. This was too much for me to process. My heart was broken, but I realized that what he needed was space to adjust to this major change of life, so I rescinded my initial requirement of a Sunday call and pivoted into a strategy I found online while searching for answers from seasoned parents in similar situations, the nightly “proof- of-life” text.

I suggested it, and he reluctantly agreed to abide with this less engaged form of communication. Every night since then, just before I go to bed I text him “Goodnight,” to which he replies, “Goodnight!”

I have had to learn to be content with just one word

After eighteen years on the roller coaster of raising him, the last of which we spent flying around the country for auditions that culminated with an unexpected admission into his dream school, 1,121 miles away, I had to now learn to be content with one word, goodnight. No daily or weekly phone calls like my friends were getting from their first-year college students to chat about their experiences, just goodnight, and always as a reply to mine.

Close to seven months have passed since that first goodnight and I am happy to say that he is doing great, and I am adjusting to this new relationship between us. He calls occasionally to check in or for the necessary money talks, but these calls are never forced, always on his own time…and wonderful.

Only twice have I gone to bed without seeing our code word

He replies to the weather alerts and silly posts I send him with a couple of words or emojis. I keep a close eye out for his stories on social media and my comments get “hearted” by him fairly quickly. Life 360 has become my new best friend; she gives me comfort by showing me his dot on the map. Yes, he knows I check. It works because I don’t comment on his location or ask where he was at 3am. I bite my tongue and pray.

Only twice have I gone to sleep anxious because he did not reply to my goodnight text and both times I have woken up to find that he did text back past midnight. After all, he is experiencing a new level of freedom in the city that never sleeps and enjoying himself.

My son has come to rely on those ‘goodnights’ as much as I have

On Saturday night, my husband, daughter, and I were out late and for the first time ever I forgot to send him goodnight. It was way past my usual text time when I realized it. It made me sad to have forgotten, but much to my surprise, I did not spiral into worry. I suppose it was a sign that I am finally getting comfortable with the fact that he is far away and thriving on his own.

As I was getting ready for bed, I heard my phone chime with the familiar sound of a message from him. I looked at the time and my heart began to pound thinking about all the scary reasons why he could be texting me so late. I quickly grabbed my phone and read:

“Goodnight? Lol u haven’t sent the text yet.”

That was when I realized that this one word has taken on a new meaning for both of us. It is no longer just about my need to hear from him, it is a new connection between us that is as important to him as it is to me, and it is all the support he needs at this moment in his life.

With happy tears in my eyes, I texted back my apology for being late and my goodnight. He “hearted” my message as a reply. That night was beyond good; it was the best night I’ve had in a long time.

More Great Reading:

My Son Left For College; I Didn’t Expect To Feel This Way

About Shilo Zapata

Shilo Zapata De Oliveira lives with her husband, daughter, and furry baby, Zeus, in Pembroke Pines, Florida where she works as a Spanish translator. She is currently preparing to visit her son in NY and embark on the college journey again with her daughter, this time with some welcomed experience under her belt. When she is not putting the final touches on her translation masterpieces, she enjoys reading, playing volleyball, and hunting down the perfect pillows for her couch.

Read more posts by Shilo

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