There is something different about the first child to make you parent, in my case to make me a mom. First one to stretch my heart bigger than I knew was possible. First one to prove to me that I could really go with far less sleep than I thought. First one to expose the depth of tenderness in my heart. First steps, first words, first day of school, first one to graduate, first one to leave for college.
It was over a decade ago when I walked thru the last summer of everyone living at home, really living at home. That summer we did a little bit of shopping every month, slowly collecting all the items we thought Katy would need for her dorm room. I had too many opinions, and she carefully listened to them all, the journey of her becoming independent of us was only just beginning. We bought boxes for storing things, fun pillows for her bed, frames for photos of family and friends. I tried to imagine everything in her home away from home, telling myself again and again that it would all be ok.
I remember the drive to Memphis, 11 hours from San Antonio, each mile feeling a bit like a fresh stab to my gut. I was an ambivalent mess of pride and joy and excitement colliding with stunned shock that 18 years had really gone by and grief and sadness mixed with fear. What a cocktail of emotions, a bit like long island iced tea or fish house punch sloshing around inside my heart.
None of my friends kids had gone so far away, I'd heard stories from them about depositing their kids at Texas A&M or UT or Tech, but this drive was so long and we knew no one in Memphis.
I remember that Mark was a bit detached from the summer shopping we did, nodding with approval but not really engaging. But, once we were moving her in and the reality sunk in he went into full Dad mode. The first of many college drop off trips to Home Depot yielded a larger carpet for her room, tools...just in case she needed them, a fan, and plenty of batteries. You know, for all those last minute times you need batteries in your dorm room. We had agreed on how much money we had for last minute shopping needs and completely blew through the budgeted amount as we both tried to soothe the angst inside of us by buying tangible expressions of our love and care for her.
When it came time to finally head home Mark hugged her, told her how proud he was and went to get the car while I stood there trying to stay present for what felt absolutely unreal. I tried desperately hard to not completely break down sobbing, tears leaking from my eyes and the giant lump in my throat nearly cutting off all of my words.
As our car turned right out of the front gate of Rhodes College I broke down and sobbed. It felt so impossible to be leaving Katy and driving home without her. What in the world would it look like now?
People had asked if I was ready for Katy to leave. What a question!!!!
Yesterday at church I talked with several parents who were heading out to take their first child to college. They were feeling all the "feels" and wondering about how it would be after they got home.
I wish someone had told me that along with the feelings of loss and emptiness that there were such sweet things that would soon come.
Mark and I had been working with college kids for a long time when Katy left for school. We'd been the ones to hear the stories from kids who felt like their parents were overbearing, didn't trust them, wouldn't let them grow up. We heard how they really needed to just feel released and empowered to make their own choices and to ask hard questions about their faith. We were the "safe place" for hundreds of students.
And, when it came to parenting our own college student all of those things we KNEW to do felt SO HARD!!
All you can do is your best, and it will be enough.
So...let go as much as you can, cry when you need to, don't turn their room into something else...they are coming back to it! Listen when they call, and try not to freak out and give too much advice. Remember that you've been caring for them and planting all your wisdom in them for nearly two decades, its time to trust that all that goodness will guide them. You can always say you're sorry if you show up too parental. I've said it ALOT to my older three kids over the past decade as they've all made their way through college and into adulthood.
You are now officially in new parenting space! Welcome! We are all still figuring it out, parenting our "adult" kids, which in and of itself feels like an oxymoron.
And, for those of you who still have high schoolers, middle schoolers and perhaps a elementary aged kid as well, I will leave you with the idea that as I dropped Katy at college my youngest was just taking her first steps.
So really, trust me when I say you can do this, however hard it is we are made to do hard things.