It’s that time again. It’s back to school, and many of us are sending one of our babies off to college. It isn’t until you reach the point of actually sending your baby away that you really know the perplexity of the situation. It is a conflicting time. We are happy “they made it,” but sad they are leaving. We are nervous about them being away but excited (and maybe a little envious) for them to begin a new chapter that many of us remember as being one of the best in our lives.
We sent our third daughter off to college on an academic and athletic scholarship. One of our older daughters had already graduated from college, and another was in a graduate program. Both attended college in the town we live in; neither lived at home but lived around the corner from us. We also still had a high school-aged daughter living with us, and I was looking forward to spending time with just her.
The daughter going away to college was the only one who hadn’t gone to preschool. When I took her for her first day, she looked around and said she didn’t want to stay. I got down to her level, looked around, and decided I wouldn’t want to stay either. So I took her home. We are very much alike and have always been close.
Her younger sister nicknamed her the “golden child.” She went on to become a valedictorian and earn our area’s most prestigious athletic/academic award in high school. She also followed in my footsteps as a runner, broke all of my 30- year-old high school records, and earned a scholarship. We attended all of her events as her #1 fan club.
I was her coach even when I did not carry the actual title. I am certain there are some who say I “relived” through her. Those who know me well know that my participation in her life – by riding my bike while she ran, cheering for her, traveling with her, or bringing her a forgotten lunch – were simply labors of love. Loving deeply comes with consequences.
The night we came back from dropping our daughter off, I went into her room, and I found a picture of her blowing out her birthday candles when she was about four years old. She was blowing with such puffed-up blowing perfection. Her younger sister is looking on as if in awe of her sister’s ability. She’s wearing no shirt, and there are fish sticks and corn on the cob on the plate, her favorite meal. At that moment, I lost it. Where had all of that time gone? Why is the blessing of loving so deeply so hard?
Then I realized that simply the time had come to let go. Our relationship was changing, and it had to change for her to grow up. She needed to not be so love-smothered so she could be independent and make other relationships. She needed to be away with kids who are also away.
I had little to fear about the location and logistics of the campus. It was like a little oasis—a small Catholic college in the bay area of California that’s about three hours away from our home.
It IS true what they say about when someone else is happy – you are happy. In my case, it makes me think she is doing what I didn’t or couldn’t. I realized that by sending her off to college, she was living now for both of us. Not in an unhealthy way, but in a “we did it” way, as she put it.
I just forgot to plan for this part – this absolute grief over someone who is gone but not dead. I’ve been here before. Knowing I have the ability to stop this pain but only with my own selfish actions for my own selfish desires. I know that by letting go, I am letting her live and love without burden. I vow to manage a delicate balance of telling her she’s missed but not mourned.
I didn’t cry at the campus or on the way home. I waited until I went to walk the dog. I didn’t want her to have to take care of me. In fact, I didn’t want to share my grief with anyone. How truly heart-wrenching it is. Even today, I can’t really bring myself to speak about the sorrow out loud. It is a selfish, selfless loss. I feel guilty for feeling sad, and I quickly remind myself how blessed I am to have participated in this. She is not dead; she is joyfully alive because I am willing to let her go.
That was four loooong years ago. She is finished with college now. She set her own records and has a hard-earned degree in biology. She plans to go to graduate school…in town! She made it. We made it. All of us. We let her go, and she came back.
Our youngest daughter has plans to transfer to another town to finish college. I’d like to think I am better prepared for this.
Time to send your kiddo off to college? Here are some great ideas for things to send with them to make their lives easier.