This Is How It Feels When Your First Kid Goes To College

It’s been a couple of weeks since my older son Jack headed off to school a plane ride away. And it’s been a couple of weeks of lovely, concerned people asking about how he likes it so far, and then leaning in and asking, “And how are you doing?”

I don’t quite know how to answer this. I usually say something about being just so busy with work and other things, and make a joke about being a master at denial, and that visiting weekend is mere weeks away. I certainly know that after flying home I flung myself into a storm of activity and busy-ness with the kind of force usually used for planning things like military coups.  And I shoved the thought of being one kid down, the beginning of a truer, more permanent separation, into a dark cubby in my brain.

But recently I had breakfast with a friend and we talked about this process, and we talked about all of the moments—good and bad—that lead up to the moment where you first say “good-bye” in a different way than ever before.

I told her that the night before he left, he said jokingly (brace yourself) “Well, I guess I’ll walk the dog for the last time.”  He left to walk around the block with Gary and the pup, and I flung myself onto my bed, wailing.  Charlie, my 15-year old came running to see this full-on meltdown, and while I sobbed, “I wish I could do it again! There are so many things I didn’t do well enough, and now it’s over and I suck and I wish I had another chance to be a better parent!”  He shushed me and patted my hair (while, I found out later, texting Gary and Jack to hustle on home because mommy had lost it completely.)

This is how it feels to send your first kid to college.

Jack came in and took Charlie place rubbing my back and saying nice things like, “Yes, sure we fought, but there was so much more.”  I sobbed some more, and also now got to cry about the fact that I was behaving like a total baby when I should be being supportive and maternal hours before his departure.  I SUCK! I am THE WORST MOM EVER!

And then he said something that made my bruised little heart bump.  He said, “Mom, I’m leaving this house knowing that you are proud of me, and that you’ve been proud of me always.  Not every kid can say that, I promise you.”

Do you think that made me stop crying or cry harder?  Yes, you are correct.

After this friend breakfast, I started thinking of all of the things I felt sorry about as a parent, and also the things I felt glad about.  And I wrote some of them down.  This list is the tip of the iceberg, and it’s really about both of my boys, individually and collectively.

I’m glad we set curfews, even though we were “the only parents who did”.

I’m glad we made you do your own laundry, bring the trash out, and clean up the dog’s miscellaneous bodily fluids from the carpet.

I’m glad we talked about drinking and drugs and birth control.  I hope it all sunk in pretty well.  Fingers crossed.

And being gentle and respectful of the person you are dating.

I’m glad I urged you to call that girl who drank too much at a party and asked how she was feeling when she felt sick and embarrassed the day after.

I’m really glad you did it so readily.

I’m sorry I missed Greek festival in 7th grade, Jack, because I was on a work trip.

And, Charlie, I’m sorry we missed your freshman homecoming because we were dropping your older brother at school.

I’m sorry I didn’t look up from the computer more when you were talking.

I’m sorry that I was hypocritical about my screen time being more justified than yours.

I’m sorry I was so quick to anger so much of the time.

I’m glad we made you shake people’s hands and look them in the eye when you met them.

I’m sorry I couldn’t watch violent movies with you guys, or even suspenseful tv shows.

And that when I did I made so many very irritating gasping noises.

I’m glad you both have an inner cores of kindness and empathy that will ground you into the future.

I’m sorry I was so impatient.

I’m glad I taught you both how to make good vinaigrette, and despite what you think Jack, I do think this will set up nicely for the future.

I’m sorry that when you were little I didn’t spend more time playing Legos.

(That f*cking Cat’s in the Cradle Song is just so accurate.)

I’m sorry I wasn’t in the moment enough.

I’m very glad you are my sons.

And the list goes on and on and on…. and on…. and some of the sorries are much deeper, and some are just regular old sorries.  And no, we don’t get to do it again.  Which is another thought that I am shoving into a dark little nook in my brain. But I will keep the part about him knowing I am proud of him in the front of my brain, on a high pedestal and I will polish that thought regularly.

And I will shove the knowledge that Charlie will be heading off in 3 years into yet another deep hiding place, and try to add some more “I’m glads” to my list.


How To Throw (And Enjoy) An Open House Graduation Party

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, an activist in hunger issues, and the author of the beloved Mom 100 Cookbook.

Published in 2012, The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket was Katie’s first book. It was nominated for an IACP award and selected by Cooking Light as one of the best 100 books of the past 25 years. This summer (August 2015), she follows up with Dinner Solved!: 100 Ingenious Recipes That Make the Whole Family Happy, Including You!

Read more posts by Katie

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.