A friend told me about a poem she recalls from her birth class. The gist of this poem is that your child takes his first steps away from you on the day he was born. My only child, a son, took a giant step away last week when my husband and I dropped him off at college.
I fully realize college drop off is not a unique experience. The fact is, I banked on this and took comfort knowing millions of parents and kids go through this same ritual each year. How hard could it possibly be?
Sure, I figured I’d be sad, anxious, reflective, maybe even a little jealous for all the new things he’d be experiencing. But funny thing, turns out, much like when I gave birth, I totally underestimated the pain (albeit a different kind of pain) college drop off would entail, and how utterly off the mark I would be on how it would all go down when the time came to say goodbye.
For those who are uninitiated in the college drop off process, in the weeks leading up to your child’s departure, you will become fixated on the past.
I conveniently forget how mind-numbing it was to play “blocks”, which entailed dragging a bag of multi-colored blocks out, stacking them as high as possible and then knocking them over, repeatedly. Or the ever-popular “dinosaurs”, which meant dragging a bag of dinosaur figures out, setting them up, inventing different sounds for each one then knocking them over. I can’t help but recall now, with a twinge of guilt, how I’d dread when he’d ask me to play either with him but how I’d give anything, absolutely anything, to play either of these games now.
For those of you reading this and living in your own version of “blocks” with your little ones, I cannot stress enough for you to take a moment and enjoy every single second – how quickly it flies by. And for those in the throes of juggling career, kiddos, and life’s daily stressors, I bet you’re thinking, praise be lady, it can’t go by quick enough. With all due respect, you’re wrong. I wish somebody had told me this fact; truth be told I’m sure many people did but I didn’t listen. That phrase, “youth is wasted on the young” could also be, “parenting is wasted on parents”.
It’s near impossible to be thoughtful about anything when you’re in the moment. It’s only when you’re about to let your child go do you really reflect, and if you’re anything like me, become unduly critical of your past decisions.
Sure, you congratulate yourself for all the things you did right (he’s so polite, he makes his bed, he hugs you, he says I love you, he’s got a great sense of humor, he’s so empathetic, he wears his retainers!) but of course, I question so much more (was it bad to have soda in the house? should I have enforced more reading at bedtime? a curfew? been more strict? less strict? said no more? yes more?).
I can’t help but think about the things I would have done differently, the milestones I would not have rushed –why was I always rushing things?
I had some weird, internal competitive compass that willed him to beat those general guidelines on when he should be crawling, walking, talking. Now, if I could, I’d give it all back and do it all over, slower. I’d build those block towers sky-high and help my son send blocks flying and I’d invent the most incredible dinosaur sounds you could possibly imagine.
But alas, time travel is still a work in progress so here we are, 18 years later, and I am considering college drop off. High school behind us, everything checked off the college list (except an iron and ironing board – I know my son enough to know these items do not qualify as necessities).
The feeling of preparing for college drop off takes me back to his first day at preschool, or when he took the bus for the first time to a new school, or when I dropped him off at sleepaway camp – there’s a piece of me that just crumbles to bits each time I remember these steps away from me. I gave up a long time ago not letting him see me cry, he understands it’s ten times harder for me to let him go as it is for him to go.
This time it’s so different – I don’t get him back at the end of the day or the week. I check my phone way more often than I care to admit for texts – one week in and I’ve already sent two care packages and two letters. I know what you’re thinking, cuckoo – but for those that have been through college drop off, I bet you’re thinking, yep, you do you, lady. And for those with little ones, please mark my words, I bet someday you will do the same, and for now, finish reading this, and go play blocks.
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