We made it through my son’s college graduation. Pomp, circumstance and all. There was some kind of mace scepter that was ceremoniously carried across the stage. I don’t know what that was all about. Nor did the honorees seem to have a clue, or care.
Must be something left over from Cornelius Vanderbilt’s days.
Each year of college offered one more opportunity to learn a new way of parenting. Every semester one more exercise in letting go. Some of the lessons made me laugh. Some made me cry.
I found myself with required reading. Let’s refer to it as The Letting Go Handbook And Exercise Manual.
Freshman Year. First semester.
I learned I could tolerate going to bed knowing I wouldn’t see him the next day, or probably hear from him much at all. It became easier to walk by his empty room.
Thank all the powers that be for that.
This was the first and most vital lesson in the manual — which of course, I was learning and practicing as I went. No matter how many posts I read (or wrote for that matter) on the topic, I still had to live through it. Emotion by emotion. Experience by experience.
Freshman Year. Second semester.
When I heard, “Mom, you know I’m not coming home spring break, right?“, I turned another page in the handbook, and realized I had started a new chapter. My son would now not be home more than he was home.
I took a deep breath, and swallowed hard. All was as it should be, as I watched him take flight.
And I grabbed for my manual.
Sophomore Year. First Semester.
Those Bobby Flay Double Fudge and Peanut Butter Brownies that took four hours to make and mucho bucks to send? They don’t all get eaten. The remainder get found by me, stuck in the back of his fairly nasty fridge, as I’m cleaning out his room on Christmas break. Hard as rocks.
Note to self: Send money for pizza.
Sophomore Year. Second Semester.
College was halfway over. Both his life and mine were expanding in new and exciting ways. His, a new internship in another city. Mine, a new website on mental health. Both of us learning and growing, and making new relationships. It was a great lesson — to be focused on the present, and not look back.
My husband and I had plans of our own. Good ones. Exciting ones.
This chapter I liked.
Junior Year. First Semester.
I could finally keep all his friends straight. That was a minor miracle. When his life would get more complicated I learned to watch, letting him know I cared, but waiting for a call that might or might not come.
I probably overstepped a little.
But my hands still hurt from sitting on them.
Junior Year. Second Semester.
He was beginning to think about the future, big time. I listened to his process. I marveled at how much farther along in his maturity he was than I was at his age. I really liked the man I saw emerging from the boy.
That’s not always true, so I treasured it. So many parents have to deal with their now adult children having drug or alcohol addictions, or not being able to establish themselves after leaving home. That’s very painful, and extends hands-on parenthood sometimes far too long.
Senior Year. First Semester.
More big decisions about career and relationships. (Not for me, for him. I think I settled on that a while back.) By now, I had almost finished the handbook and really enjoyed the new place I held in his life.
Standing ready if called upon, and loving him.
Senior Year. Second Semester.
This is perhaps the most touching lesson, as I watch him cope with letting go. Letting go of the life he has built with very good friends. They are scattering far and wide, these men and women he has grown to love, and with whom he has shared so much. Some of which I know nothing about, and am probably glad that I don’t!
All I could say?
“You’ll make it through. You’ll figure out how to stay in touch and create a new kind of relationship with them.”
But it’s still grieving, dealing with his own version of empty nest.
How well I know.