Migration of the Collegian

Letting Go #14

Every fall, the young of our fair species stuff various modes of transportation with unnecessary materials that are deemed essential by teenage standards and begin the long trek to the halls of higher education, social advancement, community living and cafeteria food. There, said youth unpack what was carefully packed and strew their belongings on the front lawns of the chosen dorms, awaiting their turns to haul cartloads of the same unnecessary materials up many floors, only to repeat the process of cramming the stuff into a very small dorm room the size of most suburban bathrooms.

For years, we’ve watched this ritual performed by friends and neighbors from afar, and thanked our lucky stars it wasn’t us.

Well, this year . . . it was us.

It’s not like I didn’t try to prepare myself. As part of my “Nine” year of Letting Go, this was the BIG ONE in the overall forecast. But somehow, it just didn’t seem real until I was standing in my daughter’s non-air-conditioned dorm room with sweat streaming down my back after performing the migration ritual of pushing her entire world into about six cubic feet of space. At that point, I was struggling with my emotions. Part of me was proud that she hadn’t brought her entire bedroom for the year–she is not a very materialistic person and she takes care of her belongings. Part of me was excited for her–I couldn’t wait to plunge into the college social scene after living an isolated life on the farm during my high school years. And part of me just didn’t want to let go of the little girl.

I won’t know whether it gets easier as each child leaves home, because I don’t have that luxury of experience. This is our only one, and my husband and I get one shot at each milestone. There are no do-overs, in a sense. Now, I know that each child is different, and that if we’d had more children, the circumstances would vary as much as every cloud in the sky. Maybe the pain of letting go is just as bad during the next launch from the nest, but at least you know what that pain feels like from the last time. You know how you will behave. You will become familiar with it, like the attack of an unpleasant in-law or second cousin you have to endure occasionally at family reunions. It’s a necessary evil.

What I do know is this: after I helped carry armloads of her worldly possessions, set up the all-important bed, fan and TV, hauled back a box of her new textbooks from the bookstore, ate one final meal with her at an off-campus restaurant and stood in front of her dorm building to say goodbye, I did not sob and clutch her to my chest, or harass her with a string of warnings and dire predictions, or even insist on going back up to her room until she threw me out. In other words, to my great relief, I did not embarrass her (I think) or create a scene.

I gave her a kiss and told her to have fun. She has earned it. And then my husband and I took that long walk back to our car and drove home to an empty nest, because as parents of the collegian, we have earned it–whether we like it or not.

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One thought on “Migration of the Collegian

  1. Just went through the same ritual. Though poignant, it’s so exciting to see them embark on such a special time. It must be how mother birds feel when their chicks take flight for the first time.

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