Life in a Pandemic: I Let My Son Go to College but I Didn’t Want To

I’m sorry, but I can’t do it. I can’t post the shiny, happy pictures of college drop-off. I have them, and maybe I will post them later, but if I did that now I wouldn’t be true to my current feelings.

mom hugging son
Drop-off isn’t easy especially right now. (photo via Kathy Stein)

I feel like I made a horrible mistake in letting my son go to college during a pandemic. I’ve been agonizing over it all summer, obsessively researching to determine the best decision.

The school is taking precautions but have we made a mistake?

Is the school taking precautions? Yes many. Will they test the students when they get there? No, for fear that it will create a false sense of security – which is complete BS but that’s a whole other post. Will classes go all remote? (He has some in-person scheduled.) It’s only a matter of time.

Every day I waited for another email from the school with a final decision. Or a change to the current decision. 

“School is mostly remote but we’re giving priority to freshman.” I have a freshman. Do I want him to have any in-person classes? What if he has class with the kids who are going to these “giant, drunken, bodies an inch away from each other” off-campus parties that I keep reading about in parent social media groups? (What if HE goes to one of those?!!!)  

You can apply pretty much anything that the school has modified to my obsessive worry pattern. 

“The dining hall is closed. Students will need to order in advance for grab and go meals.” Go? Go where? Is he going to bring his dinner to the giant drunken party?

“If a student tests positive and lives on campus, he will move to the COVID dorm to recover.” LIVE IN THE COVID dorm? With the COVID-positive drunken party people?


I trust my son but I’m still worried

Do I trust my son to be safe? Absolutely. (I know he won’t be going to any of those aforementioned parties any time soon.) No one has seen the bottom half of his face for months except our immediate family.

He has the cleanest hands of anyone I know. He and his “bubble” of friends don masks during their pick-up basketball games.  He is an extrovert, yet he knows that in order to keep himself (and his family and 80 year-old grandmother) safe, he has to say “no” to friends when it might not be safe to hang out. It’s so hard, but I’m proud of him for making the right decisions.

Does he want to go. YES! Kelly Clarkson needs to write a follow-up song, “Mr. Independent” in his honor. All his friends (whose schools are opening) are going. He would be miserable if we didn’t let him go.

I hoped he might decide not to go

I had a brief glimmer of hope last weekend when he was worried about going and might want to stay home. But, he talked to his roommate and they agreed to the same safety measures. As much as I want him to stay home and take his classes remotely, I know he wouldn’t be happy. He wants as much of the college experience as he can get. He knows it’s not going to be what I had way back when.

So, we looked at his options and decided to let him go. I was ok with it, sort of. Bought all the dorm stuff. Packed it up. Then, the night before we left, I read about school after school shutting down or Covid clusters in dorms. It’s only a matter of time until it happens at his school, right? Will mask-wearing and hunkering down in his dorm be enough? 

Yesterday morning we packed up the car and I went to drop off the dog to be boarded. On the way home I start sobbing, thinking he shouldn’t go. I come home and questioned my decision again.

How is this okay? We’ve spent the past 18 years taking care of him, protecting him, teaching him. We’ve spent the past six months combing the internet for the best masks, paper towels, hand sanitizer and disinfectants, all to keep him healthy and safe. 

How is it okay to let him go live with the uncertainty? Why don’t all the schools agree to do the same thing? Why are they leaving it up to the parents to decide? It feels like I’m sending my son off to war. 

I get out-voted. He wants to go; the car is packed. So we go.

Move-in was easy

Move-in was easy. Not very many people around. His roommate and mother are very nice, mask-wearing people. I trust them both to keep themselves safe as best as they can. Mr. independent couldn’t wait for us to leave, but we convinced him to let us buy him dinner. He was excited to start this new adventure despite the impediments.

Like most of us, I don’t know how this will turn out. For now, we wait. The pandemic has robbed me of all the feelings I thought I would have about my son’s high school graduation and going to college, and replaced it with worry and panic of a different kind.

My sadness will most likely dissipate in a few days, and I’ll be ready to show you the shiny happy pictures, but not today. 

You Might Also Want to Read:

6 Reasons Why Moms Cry When They Leave Their Teens at College Helene Wingens explains the pain that parents feel at a moment of great happiness for their teen.

About Kathy Stein

Kathy Stein lives in suburban Chicago with her two teenage sons (15, 18), her amazingly patient husband and their dog Max. She has taken a break from teaching preschool in order to work on her master’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

Read more posts by Kathy

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