One short year ago I was you: A mom about to send her firstborn to college far away. It was the August farewell tour that wouldn’t end. I obsessed about his bedding as a coping technique for the constant knot in my stomach and verge of tears mood. We packed that car to the brim, sobbed in an intertwined mess of hugs on the walkway and drove off. My brain knew he was ready. My heart felt this was an impossible leap of letting him go.
I pride myself on running a tight ship and the college search and application process were no different. For two full years I tortured my son with nonstop college tours and research and advice and application schedules and essay edits and tutors and interviews. Admittedly some of these steps were necessary and helpful, but I thought of little else and talked of little else with him. I annoyed everyone, including myself.
We’re a close family. We like to spend time together and my sons are best friends. It made sense to focus his search on small liberal arts schools within a 3-hour radius, in an effort to ensure this continued dynamic. Nine such schools to be exact. Plus one little random addition to the list that’s ten hours away – a reach school, and the only one we hadn’t seen during our two-year journey to find the perfect college. This last addition came about because of the divine intervention of someone on the golf course telling him, “it’s pretty there and my daughter loves the school.” Oh how the common app makes it easy to take such a whim, $60 and the click of a key and turn it into a meant-to-be life turning point.
And just like that, we cried in the living room when he received his tenth decision letter – the acceptance letter from the last-minute application school, the whim school, the outlier school, the reach school. Life slapped me in the face and said, “take your organized plans and stick it” when we stepped onto that campus for the first time and my son said, “finally. This is it.” We were about to zig when we thought we’d zag.
My son was ready for his reach school. Ready to be ten hours away, not three. Ready to try a new climate and a new region of the country. Ready to travel to and from home alone by plane and deal with lost luggage. Ready to learn the incredibly difficult Arabic language, for example, because “why not try it?” Ready to spend a holiday away from home. Ready to use uber. Ready to…….you get the picture. You name it, he was ready to try it.
He reached. And so I had to reach, WAY past my tight-ship comfort zone. Gone were my plans of knowing he was at a tiny school and taking him out to dinner once a month and being able to get to him quickly if he needed me. Instead I signed up for Snapchat in an effort to keep in touch on his terms, followed the school’s sports teams to be enthusiastic and sent homemade cookies every once in a while. I reached pretty far emotionally a few times when he faced stresses, homesickness and mini-crises and I couldn’t scoop him up and save the day. Others had the opportunity to help him logistically and emotionally and I know they will be his lifelong friends. Frankly he was forced to learn some excellent self-care methods as well. Once he told me, “becoming an adult is hard.” I hung up and cried as he continued to reach.
Next week we will once again embark on the ten-hour drive and his sophomore year drop-off. We both feel organized, ready and confident. But something tells me that we’d better be ready to reach once again…..
Barb Patrick is a wife, mom to three & quilting owner of Bitty Birdie Design in Newtown, CT. Any spare time is spent trying to exercise, see friends & read….but mostly she just consumes caffeine & turns off lights in the house & baby-talks to Pippa her snotty Boston terrier.