As parents we all mark our college kids’ absences differently. There are many little things in our daily lives that occur that remind us (not that we have forgotten) that our birds have flown the nest. For some, it is grocery store grieving or feeling a sharp pang upon finding a lone sock stuck in the sofa, or the suddenly empty foyer that used to overflow with boots and backpacks. For me, though, it is all about the beds.
When you think about it, where else are we more vulnerable and yet feel the most safe and secure? As moms, there is nothing as heartwarming as looking in at your young children sleeping soundly all snuggled in their beds. It’s no wonder that we carry that over into our roles as college parents.
When moving my oldest into his dorm freshman year, I was completely happy and excited until I finished making his bed. I suddenly just lost it. As soon as the bed was made, I knew there was nothing else I could do and it was time for me to leave.
I took a photo of him smiling on his bed and that image stuck with me until I got home. Once back in our house that night, I had to pass his room and see the unmade bed he had woken up in just that morning. Knowing he would not be home until Thanksgiving, I lost it all over again.
I felt the same way when my daughter moved into her freshman dorm. It was a hot and hurried move into an old, cramped room in a dorm perennially marked for demolition but somehow still standing. The only possibly cozy thing in her room was her bed, the bottom bunk. Once we had the eggshell mattress, the sheets, the comforters and pillows on and the posters and fairy lights up, I began to feel much better. Her bed was now an oasis, a cushiony refuge she could call her own.
I think our desire to cushion our kids against any hardship in life has resulted in a pillow boom for Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Our children are no longer in our nest but we can certainly provide their new home with plenty of pretty feathers. We leave them with a bed full of oversize pillows to reassure ourselves that they will be safe and secure, as if the pillows themselves could ward off any potential negativity.
I suspect many of those fluffy pillows in move-in day photos end up on the floor because I have seen some really lovely beds with literally no room for the actual kid. My own son apologetically sent home the oversize pillow I ordered with his university’s logo on it because it was just too big and bulky for his bed. Apparently what gave me emotional comfort was an inconvenience in reality.
I have adopted my late mother’s habit of silently saying a brief prayer and affirmation for each member of my family before I fall asleep. I try to picture each of my kids sleeping peacefully in their beds, even though I know full well that my college students will be up for hours more writing papers and studying for exams or out socializing while I am the one cozily drifting off to dreamland but it still helps me fall asleep.
As the mom of a now senior and a sophomore in college, I am used to having two empty beds in the house and this time next year I will have to get used to having three. It will be quiet and a little sad to see their empty, pristinely made beds as I walk past their rooms. But I know they haven’t left for good yet. There are holidays, school breaks, summers, and the possibility of a graduate or graduates returning home for a local job. There will still be plenty of rumpled beds in my future. And not all perfectly made beds are a sign of absence.
Just this week, I took off the already clean sheets, washed them and remade the beds and fluffed those pillows. My baby birds will be returning home for winter break! The cycle of the unmade/made/unmade bed begins anew and I will sleep like a baby myself knowing that once again, we are all sleeping under the same roof.
Peggy Montella is the mother of two college students and one high school junior. She has a B.A. in Journalism and a M.B.A. in Marketing from the Pennsylvania State University but has spent the last 19 years as a stay-at-home mom. She was raised in Pennsylvania but has lived in Montgomery County, Maryland since 1990. She has been married for 24 years and is also the ‘mom’ to a Golden retriever and a Boxer puppy. She also serves as a Parent Ambassador with the Penn State Parents Program and as an alumni admissions volunteer and volunteers with her local animal shelter.