College Drop-off and the Value of Perspective in New Beginnings
By Molly Duteau
I think the thing, and I’m probably going to cry, I think the thing I’ve learned is that the letting go part really is also about the coming back to.
So that feeling of being in limbo right now, finding the new normal, it doesn’t happen all of a sudden at drop-off.
It’s the coming back to someone that has just kinda been left out to sea for a little bit.
This whole college separation you know, it’s been happening all along – the little things.
This past year has been heart-wrenching.
He broke his collarbone.
He and his girlfriend broke up.
He found the college application process very daunting.
I was with him when he got the notification that he did not get accepted to the college that he really, really wanted to go to. And the second one he really wanted he got waitlisted. So, you know what, it kind of called upon me to think – okay, how do I wanna show up for my kids when they are having their lowest moments?
As someone with experience, I’ve been there. I know it sucks.
As parents, we have perspective.
So you know as a parent I want to show up: to be the beacon, to be the guardrails – to walk alongside him – to be a phone call away.
The summer between his junior and senior year we went on a mother-son road trip which was amazing. And drove to see colleges in Indiana, the Chicago area, and St. Louis and then we made our way back.
And it was a great road trip for mother-son, but it really solidified for him more what he was looking for. He knew he didn’t want to go to a big city college.
After he made his final choice, we went down to his college in May I think, everything had shut down. We just drove down and walked across the campus just to get the feel of it and to walk every inch of the campus before it gets crowded with people.
And he seemed to stand a little taller.
He seemed to visualize things more.
And it was almost like it was his way of stepping into his driver’s seat.
My son’s a minimalist so I know that all he wants is a hammock and some good food and popcorn and he’s happy.
I think I took the initiative with, you know, I came up with a healthy college checklist.
And then I left it up to him to pack.
I took all of his clothes that were clean and I piled them up all over his room floor and said here’s your underwear, here’s your undershirts, here are your socks, here are your short sleeve shirts, and you pack everything you want just know you’re doing your own laundry. If you wanna do it every other day – great. If you wanna wait every month – great.
Pack what you want.
Somebody mentioned – a couple years ago, another mom’s son graduated prior to mine, she says you know, there’s only one other time in your life when you get wrapped up in preparation for the child and it’s when you’re pregnant and you’re nesting and you’re buying a comforter and you’re getting the crib set up, and you’re painting the room the color – there’s such a moment – you get wrapped up in the preparedness of it.
And I get it because that, that is what I focused on to prepare me for the drop-off. I was telling my husband and I was like, he thought I was growing all these ears off my head, and I was like this is just my obsession and what I need to do to help control my anxiety, and the emotions that I’m having and it was necessary for me and I really enjoyed that.
We had a very late drop-off, 4:45 PM. We were supposed to pull up and we had an hour to get him moved in and settled.
So the drive down, it was normal, it was just a typical road trip with family and, you know it’s four hours but I was preoccupied with how we would navigate the school’s protocols with there only being two people allowed to help with the student move-in and we’re a family of four.
What do I do with my daughter? She’s part of the family. She has every right to be a part of this, how can I honor that.
When I’m feeling out of sorts, or anxiety-ridden, I go to what I can control.
I can control a plan.
I can do a whole list of things to keep me occupied.
I was so wrapped up in the whole orchestration of everything. And we’re living in a pandemic, so, I was just kinda preoccupied.
When is that moment gonna be when we say goodbye?
Or will he want to join us for dinner?
There were a lot of unknowns and we were just gonna kinda wing it.
My daughter and I made his bed and got the hooks set up to where he could hang his wet towel and where he’s going to put his toiletries, you know, the nesting thing.
We all walked out afterward, and I just said, “Hey,” very casually, “Hey, we’re gonna find a place to get some dinner. Would you like to come with us or would you like to hang out and find some people in your dorm to have dinner with?”
And he goes, “Oh, oh I’ll go with you guys.”
It was one of those organic moments that I have to say, internally I was like oh thank God.
Dinner was really nice and then we had made the arrangements for spending the night down there. So my husband and I and our daughter got a hotel. So I gave him a hug goodnight and then we said, “We’ll see you in the morning and we’ll check-in.”
And we did. I think we dropped one other thing off to him and then I gave him a nice big hug and my sunglasses fell off my head and there was that moment of oh God, I’m going to tear up.
And then it was okay.
But then he hugged my daughter and that to me, I couldn’t watch that because they’re so close – so, I just kinda started to walk away and so did they, and it was just “Okay, we’ll see yah soon.”
The drive back was quiet.
It’s the coming home and having dinner without him there. It’s passing his bedroom. He’s not there.
I think the greatest wish I have for him is that he remembers that he is brave enough and courageous enough to lean into those hard things.
As an adult, I have that perspective that it follows you wherever you go. Those patterns or habits that make us want to avoid those hard things.
And just reminding him that he is stronger than he thinks he is. And I know that because of all these things he has already handled in his life. And to be the reminder of that is huge, huge.
I told him, always remember you are so good at building relationships. And I go, you do this, you do it well, you’ve repeated it over and over again, and now you’re just going to do it again. And you know where those relationships have helped.
So just reminding him and giving him a reflection of his life and what he has already accomplished.
Not just academically and on a piece of paper, but with life.
And he knows that I have a sense of adventure that has been dormant for a few years, so I said, just call me. I’ll hop in the car and I’m gone.
Now’s the time to figure out what that new normal is for me. And what do I want more of; I’m all about this life of abundance and the pandemic has really flattened anything so now I’m being very choosey about what I’m giving attention to, how I’m spending my time.
And that’s kinda a good thing.
When I think about my “next chapter” – the phase of life after the kids move out – what comes to mind is the “come back to” – to me – to that which has been dormant for 20 years and is seeking some adventure. To a new me – one with life experience, one who knows herself better and is looking to connect the dots of my life.
Parenthood shows us what you can do with uncertainty – that it’s not important to have everything figured out. I imagine this next chapter will be much like that.