Facing the College Send-off

“So when does she leave?” Sometimes this is asked with excitement, sometimes just out of politeness, and from those close to the situation, this question drips with sympathy. As parents prepare to send their children off to college for the first time, sadness and dread tag along for the ride.

For the rest of us, summer’s precious bounty is rudely interrupted by emails from the grade school and high school about the first day back. In our town, this was August 14th! Without fail, every year, I’m appalled, (but that’s a topic for another day.)

Just yesterday, while at Whole Foods, a neighborly acquaintance, self-consciously teared up while telling me about her youngest son who began full-day kindergarten earlier that morning. The mom in me welled up too, and I felt her panic and sadness as we both acknowledged that this is an end of an era for her. That era (babyland, toddlerhood, and preschool) ended well over a decade ago for me. I was tempted to assure this younger mom that many joyous family occasions were yet to come.  But instead, I just gave it to her. Yeah, this is a moment. It is big. It is happening.

A moment becomes momentous when kids go to college. We feel it in our bones. Much of our mental energy may be spent at The Container Store or managing the finances. There may also be a useless worry during the wee hours of the night when we face the ugly truth about our child’s flaws. Then we wake up, perk up, and experience gratitude for actually achieving every parent’s dream: I have a healthy child who is attending college. Then the cycle begins again.

Aside from our foremost concerns about our child’s well-being, something else lurks in the shadows. For me, beneath all of this, was coming face to face with the passage of time. It sprouted up unexpectedly when I dropped off my older kids a few years ago and has steadily grown as I face the prospect, next year of sending my last to college. Our older teens and their friends, for better or for worse create an endless flurry of activity. The vibrancy of young adulthood can remind us of our own college days. For me, I began to realize how removed I am today from that goofy, unorganized, and unfinished version of myself.  I see my own age now, and I see my own aging. Even if one is healthier and more fit now, than back then (and many of us are), we still don’t enjoy the effortless health of our younger selves.

Even though the kind-hearted mom at Wholefoods recognized the shift in real-time, it’s easy to miss. Raising kids leaves little time for self-reflection. The necessity to attend to careers, school, sports, and all manner of social events creates the perfect scenario in which the passage of time can be missed. For me, the college send-off was accompanied by a nagging pit in my stomach that I couldn’t quite name, and yet I couldn’t deny. Somehow time had snuck up on me. The next phase was here.

The other day my yoga instructor encouraged the class to take the mindset of The Beginner. She reminded us that the beginner approaches the next task with an open heart and an open mind.

The beginner is willing to learn. The beginner is curious.

I really appreciated this perspective. I wonder what would arise if I approached the next chapter of my life in this way?

The beginner does not bring preconceived notions.

The beginner has the freedom to explore.

The older, wiser, and more complete version of myself stands on the verge. Alongside an ending is a beginning.

The beginner sees circumstances with new eyes.

The beginner has endless possibilities.

2 thoughts on “Facing the College Send-off

  1. I so needed this Jeanne! With dropping Sophia off back at college this Saturday, I have those same feelings returning that surprised me last year when she first left -“Did she have a good childhood? Was I a good Mom? Where did 18 years go? Did we make the most of them?” And now it’s added that I realize Josie will be going off in just 2 years! My chest tightens to think these thoughts and my eyes well up. I love how you connected these feelings to an awakening to time passing. You are brilliant! And I am going to carry on with the mindset of a beginner – open heart and mind. Thank you!


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