He’s home! He’s home! I haven’t written much since he left. That’s not even true. I haven’t written anything of any worth in months. Since we dropped him off to be exact. A few sentences, a few strings of words, disconnected from each other with no true band of thought. Cooper leaving for college is the single biggest day-to-day change in my life since Aiden was born, completing my tribe of five. We survived all the messiness and struggle of the first months of separation, of wings branching out and of one less heartbeat under my roof (most of the time). I know it’s a small milestone, one semester out of his widening horizon, four months into a future that will continue to change and evolve. I know there are many challenges ahead and so many times I will again feel like a duck out of water. But today, today I am grateful. Grateful for this kid. Grateful for his resilience and grit. I am grateful for his short comings and his weaknesses, without them the sweetness of growth would taste far less ripe. I am grateful he is home. And I am grateful for what I learned, not just from my son, but from his friends and the mom’s who love them. From the sorority of sisters I now have of mom’s whose kids left home. My lessons from Semester One are not just from my experience, or my experience with Coop, but rather a collage of moments and thoughts passed between us — my cohort of mothers learning to let go.
I learned that it is as lonely and as awful and as sad as you think it will be, and sometimes worse, but it’s not the worst thing. It’s also okay, it’s even pleasant at times. To let go of the stress, the logistics of his complicated life, to let go of the worry about where he needed to be. To enjoy the realization that he was where he needed to be. That he had grown into his new life, and you were growing into your new world as well.
I learned that my heart ached with homesickness and wistfulness of the past. That I would feel less than whole and more complete than I ever had been at the same time. I learned that I could look in his eyes and know he felt the exact same way.
I learned that the first couple months are tough. That your kid will feel unsettled and be homesick, homesick for his brothers, his friends, his bed, his town, his life, his dog, his dad … and you. He will feel nervous and anxious, and worry if he made the right choice, fret over the decision he was certain was right. He will waiver about missing home, about staying there, he will waiver about his career path. He may even believe this college he took so long to choose, the path he worked so hard to lay the stones for, isn’t the right fit. I learned to stick with him. I learned to let him be uncomfortable. I learned that being uncomfortable is a life skill, and without this skill we would rob our kids of knowing they can master their world. That they can make choices and decisions, that they can wait out the discomfort that life so often brings. I learned that being uncomfortable is the space you have to be in to grow. That without discomfort, without stretching and reaching, nothing changes. I learned to repeat the mantra, “Being uncomfortable is a life skill.”
You will learn that while you thought you would have the urge to bring him home, to tell him to just come back, things will be easier, you won’t. I learned that you will feel pride, pride for yourself, pride for your son, pride for your daughter, pride in your relationship as you navigated your way through rough waters, together, but apart. With new goals, new dreams, new ideas about what the landscape of life looks like.
I learned that at first, you will send him tons of care packages. And then you will both become less uncomfortable. You will both become settled. And you will intend to send him more care packages, but you won’t. And he will be just fine with that.
I learned Thursday morning isn’t a good time to watch his snapchat stories. I learned (remembered?) that no night is disqualified from going out and having fun as a “school night”, and apparently Wednesday nights can be a little left of crazy. And I learned that I would watch his story anyway, and smile when I hear his laugh from behind the camera.
I learned that sometimes it’s funny when he responds to your text of “Hey buddy, what’s up?” with “Well, I just jumped out of a window to get away from campus security. But it’s all good now.”
I learned that when he is home for the weekend, you will look forward to her sleeping under your roof. And he won’t be there, because he will be spending both nights at a friends. And IF he is there, you will sit up worrying more than you do on a Wednesday night when he is at school.
I learned that the child you took out to lunch in August before you left, is not the man who came home for Thanksgiving dinner in November. His horizon is far broader, his gratefulness for what you have done deeper, and his physical need for you lessened. I learned you will look forward to his visits to have him physically present, to feel the weight of him in a room. But I also learned that you look forward to the visits to see what else he has learned.
I learned that while she doesn’t need you to do her laundry, you will be both proud and disappointed when she comes home with all of her bags full of clean, neatly folded clothes. You may secretly find “dirty” items to wash, fold and put away as a vestige of the days when her tiny clothes filled your washer.
As simple as it sounds, I think the lesson that stands out the most for me is this: This too shall pass. The ups, the downs, they pass. You move on. Life gets easier, it gets harder. You swim in and out of storms and calm seas. Sending a kid off to college is not the worst thing in the world, but it is something. And I am glad I am able to honor if for that and learn what I can.
I am so grateful for all this boy has taught me. I am grateful for his brothers and my E. I am grateful for the journey our life is taking us on, and the beauty and heart break of watching their lives take shape. I have enjoyed this holiday season – despite the hardships of a challenging year – even more than I have those of years past. The season feels pure, the love and kindness genuine. The fragility of life, love, relationships has been illustrated for me in the strength of the reason for our celebrations. Life is not ideal, and as it likes to teach me, it never will be. But moments can be. And I am grateful for the moments I am collecting. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. Much love <3