The longest 3 months of my life (except maybe when I was in the last trimester of each of my pregnancies) was the June, July and August of 2008, before my daughter left for college. The abrupt, yet painfully drawn out, end of her senior year crystallized for me that she was leaving for school 3000 miles away, and her childhood was coming to an end. Neither she nor I were clear on how to manage the last few weeks of her being at home. I was, as I always am in times of uncertainty and anxiety, caught up in a fit of cleaning and organizing with a healthy dose of shopping added in to the mix. Like all moms sending their oldest off to college – and like most everything else about parenting the first time around – I had no clue what I was doing and so, of course, did it in the way that suited me best.
My daughter also did what she does when feeling overwhelmed. After working for the months of June and July, she took off the weeks of August before we took her to school, and promptly went to bed for most of that time, watching “John and Kate Plus Eight” on a continual loop. Perhaps living with that dysfunctional family was helping her to prepare herself to leave her far more sane one – I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that instinctively I understood that it was best for me to leave her alone, for the most part, to separate herself from her home, her friends, her family, even our dog. If lying in bed snuggling our mutt and watching bad reality TV was what she needed to do, then that was ok with me.
[clickToTweet tweet=”The Long Goodbye – When Your Kid Leaves for College. #empty nest” quote=”The Long Goodbye – When Your Kid Leaves for College.”]
When I was leaving for college, I became the cruelest version of me I think I’ve ever been. My mother was having a very difficult time with me going, though of course, at 17, I had no idea and even if I had, I wouldn’t have cared. Battling Vertigo and working full time, my mother was hoping for a little kindness from me as the room spun around and she felt like she was going to pass out while I was visiting her at work. I didn’t care, though – all I wanted from her was her credit card to go buy some clothes. Fortunately she forgave me, but I never forgot that afternoon, and I silently thanked the universe when the worst thing my daughter did was hide in her room and stay in her pajamas all day.
Unfortunately for all of us sending our kids away to school, one of the most important things our children have to do in order to leave home and go to college is to fade away from us. For some teens this can mean loud, screaming fights with their parents or nights out with their friends, way past curfew, as often as possible. Some simply shut down, while others become preoccupied with things that are not necessarily beneficial or helpful (like my daughter). One way or another, soon-to-be freshmen need to push parents away so they can begin the transition from home to college. There’s no getting around it – whether your child is horrible like I was or tolerable like my daughter was, sooner or later she has to make room for what comes next.
My daughter still hides in her bed when she feels overwhelmed, and if my life is getting to be too much you will find me folding clothes and cleaning out my refrigerator, or wandering the aisles at Target. And, despite the fact that my daughter went across the country to college, she came back and lives nearby, and we are close as can be. The separation necessary to leave home doesn’t last forever – in fact, for most families, it becomes an anecdote to tell, like my mother tells about me – or I tell about my daughter.