It’s a story I’m embarrassed to tell.
But we moms need to shed our shame-coats and share these moments because mom-love is a universal language.
The day we dropped my oldest son off to begin his freshman year of college feels like yesterday. It was one of my proudest days but also one of my saddest. He graduated from high school two short weeks before he had to report for the summer football program and still had a sweet baby face. My head saw a man, but my heart saw a little boy.
After we got him moved into his new dorm room and all situated, it was time to go. Time to leave him. Time to let him begin his next chapter of life. Time to say goodbye.
We stood in the dorm parking lot going over the check list with him. Set your alarm so you don’t miss breakfast. Lock your dorm door when you leave but don’t forget to check for your key first. Don’t stay up too late. Wash your sheets, please. Don’t leave money laying around. Blah blah blah. In truth, I was confident in his life skills, and didn’t doubt his ability to set an alarm.
I was simply delaying the inevitable.
We started with a big family group hug. All five of us. Holding tight to one another, each of us aching in different ways. My tears began to flow. There was no holding back the emotion anymore.
My son was doing well. Holding strong. Letting my tears soak his shoulder and telling me it was okay.
But then he hugged his siblings. And it all came out. His big body couldn’t hold his emotions back. He was sad to say good-bye to us, but he was hurting to say goodbye to them. His tears were big and his love for them felt even bigger.
I wasn’t used to seeing him cry or show a lot of emotion. It worried me. “Is he going to be okay?” I silently asked myself. My last image of him that night was walking away from us towards his new home, shoulders down and wiping his wet face.
We had brought two cars full of stuff so my husband and I each drove home, unable to commiserate together. I was alone with my thoughts and the empty hole in my heart felt like it was getting bigger with each mile I drove further away from one of the three people I love most on this planet.
My daughter rode home with her dad and my riding partner was my middle child. He holds his emotions close to the vest. Always has. The moment we got in the car, he decided it was time to recline his chair all the way back, put on his headphones and sleep the whole ride home. He was in no way wanting to chat with me the way I was needing. He had to process within himself before he could process with me.
About 30 minutes into the drive, I texted my son to make sure he was okay. I just wanted to be sure he had stopped crying and he wasn’t too sad.
My heart started to race.
Hello. Where are you. Honey, it’s mom. Let me know you are okay.
I called him. Just wanting to be reassured by his voice.
This is where the story gets cringy.
Sidenote: Sometimes owning our crazy helps us offer grace to ourselves.
My mind started to race. Had he been so sad that he didn’t even go back in the dorm room? Was he wondering around campus alone, crying by himself? Was he sitting on a bench feeling lonely and missing us?
Another text to him. Another no response.
By the time we got home, an hour after dropping him off I was a wreck. I just knew something was wrong. It wasn’t like him to cry so maybe he didn’t know how to handle these emotions and he was overwhelmed. I panicked.
We pulled in our driveway and I beelined to my husband’s truck.
“I want to drive back” I told him. Our son wasn’t responding and that wasn’t like him. What if he needed us? What if he’s alone?
My husband looked at me like I was whacked. And I don’t blame him.
“No”, he barked at me. “WE are not going back. YOU are not going back.”
I remember thinking how insensitive he was. Didn’t he see how torn up our baby boy was. Wasn’t he worried? Didn’t he want to know he was okay?
I stood pacing in the driveway. Telling myself that if I didn’t hear from him within 30 minutes, I was getting in my car and I was headed back. It was my job as Momma-Bear to check on my little cub.
Ten long minutes later my phone rang. It was a facetime call.
I feverishly answered it, yelling into the phone “Are you okay?”.
He was out of breath. Panting. But the first thing I saw was his big smile. It stretched all the way across his young face. In the background I heard laughter, deep voices cracking jokes and boy snickers.
“Sorry mom, me and the boys jumped on our bikes right after you left, and we’ve been having a blast riding around looking at the campus. I didn’t hear my phone ring. Gotta go, we are on our way to dinner. Call you later.”
Before I could get words out, he hung up.
My husband looked at me with a smirk, a head shake, and walked into the house. No words were needed.
And it was in that very minute that I knew he was going to be okay.
He was sad when we left but he did exactly what he was supposed to do: he moved on. He let those sad emotions turn into excitement and adventure. He leaned into his new life. He started making new connections. He embraced this next chapter. He was having fun. He was doing what I had prayed he would do. He turned the page.
The moral of the story—besides controlling your inner Mama Bear (something I epically failed at)—goes out to all you Mommas taking your precious child to college. Or watching them join the military. Or taking a gap year to travel. Or launching into adulthood.
Your kids are going to be fine. Don’t sound the alarm bells too soon. Our kids are smart, steadfast, and brave. And if they don’t feel fine, there are people, support systems and resources around them that can help. They may struggle, get challenged and even decide that they don’t like where they landed. They might fail, make choices you would not have picked, and learn from painful mistakes. They might call you feeling sad one day and then exuberant the next time. They might feel alone, afraid, and unsure. They might be uncomfortable, and they might get homesick. They might question their decisions, doubt themselves and hurt along the way.
But in the end, 9 times out of 10 they are going to be okay. They will figure it out.
Our kids have just lived through a pandemic of epic proportions. They had to adapt, adjust, and persist through crazy conditions. They received an education this year that will serve them well in the future. They learned about mental health first-hand and they learned about flexibility and change. They are stronger and more resilient than they ever knew they could be.
And as their parents, we need to trust that. We did our job. And now we need to trust them that they are ready to soar.
By the time we dropped #2 son off at college, I had learned from my crazy past. I gave him a long hug (still with tears) but I told him to reach out later in the week and let me know how he was doing. I knew deep down that come what may, he was also going to be okay.
Sometimes our most embarrassing moments are the moments that teach us the most. Sometimes our biggest failures are the best lessons. Sometimes we need a cringe-worthy moment to have an aha moment. Sometimes the moments we let go we grab on to something so much more powerful. Sometimes life makes sense. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Life is funny like that. And if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re in trouble.