For a few years before my own sons began college, I didn’t give much thought when I saw neighbors’ cars jam-packed with their college kids’ belongings getting reading for August journeys to Boston, Virginia, New York or the University of Maine at Orono.
My feeling was one of detached happiness ― how exciting for the kids, going off to the college of their choice, beginning the next phase of their lives, becoming independent.
How exciting for the parents... starting the next phase of their lives and having “arrived” at a bit of success for raising children to this point.
As a young woman, I had hoped to become a college professor. I was the girl who loved the world of academics, reading, learning and expanding my mind among a tribe that was curious and inquisitive. I was also fiercely independent so going away to college and then Europe to study were exciting for me. At the age of eighteen, I had no fear.
I assumed most kids felt the way I did.
I assumed my own kids felt that way.
When our car was being packed eight years ago to take our older son off to Vermont for freshman year, I was still filled with happiness, albeit a more focused and anxious happiness.
All four of us in our family were beginning the college journey, the next phase of our lives together which would last eight years across the two brothers. We were all four jumping into the abyss, the unknown, and I did so with nervous excitement.
By the second, sophomore year for Matt, it was all different.
It was different because of the knowing.
College life and the absence of a child were no longer unknowns.
That second August, as Matt’s two neighborhood best friends packed up for their freshman years away, I noticed.
I pondered it.
I was no longer detached from the other neighborhood kids.
That second summer, some of the kids had told me outright at their high school graduation parties they were nervous to go ― bright kids with lots of friends and successes already in their young lives.
They seemed more afraid and unsure than I would have expected and more than I remembered being as I set off myself so many years ago.
Now, I knew what their parents were going through ― the fear, nervousness and mixed emotions of missing their child already, along with high hopes and happiness at what lay ahead.
It was no longer ethereal for me; now my view of college send-off’s was based on my own reality.
My nervousness for Matt abated after the first year; he led himself well.
But in other ways, the second and subsequent years were tougher seeing others’ departures through different eyes and no longer clinging to ignorant bliss.
As we pack up for our 8 and final college year send off for son #2, I tear up when I hear the truth in Harry Chapin’s song Cat’s in the Cradle –
“Well, he came from college just the other day,
so much like a man I just had to say,
son, I’m proud of you.
Can you sit for a while?”