My firstborn is heading to college. He's ready. I certainly am not.

Lessons I've learned on letting go

Dana Wright
August 13, 2018 - 12:19 pm

It has been 955 weeks since we brought him home from the hospital.   

If someone had told me back then that the clock was ticking, that I would have 955 weeks at home with this gift of a child, I know exactly how I would have reacted.  I would have nodded politely the way new moms do when someone gives them advice about this or that, and turned my attention to more pressing matters. 

It’s such an abstract number. 955. It's a stupid number.   It isn’t even a round number or a particularly interesting number.  Who chose 955?  Why?  I certainly don’t like that person very much right now.  Because in a few short days, 955 dwindles down to zero.  The last grain of sand will slip through the hourglass and our firstborn son leaves for college. 

I am 44 years old.  I have four beautiful children, a supportive husband and a successful career.  I tend to think I have my shit together.  But when it comes to this,  I am an absolute mess. 

I wish someone would have warned me about a few things along the way.   Here are some of the lessons I've learned.

LESSON #1:  It is not possible to even remotely understand...

...what this week is like for all of the moms and dads getting ready to say goodbye to their babies for the first time if you haven’t been through it.

I could sit down and compare all kinds of notes with you right now about daycare and nutrition and work/life balance and mom guilt and the HPV vaccine and school dances and Snapchat and why I’d like to track down the man who created Study Island and knee him in the balls.  I am a 44 year old mother of FOUR.  I could write a book about all of those things.  But Holy Hell until you have a graduating senior preparing to leave your home,  there is nothing anyone can say to make you understand it.  It would be easier for me to describe the color of seven.  

I will tell you this:  For me, it feels like dread and it feels like excitement.  It feels like hope and joy and it feels like dejection.  It feels like love.  And then it feels hollow.  It feels like my heart will explode with pride.  And it feels like it is shattering into a thousand pieces.  It feels like laughter.  And it feels like I’m going to throw up. And all of that that was just on Monday.   

LESSON #2:   Light-rock ballads are NOT your friend right now

I want to get one thing straight.  I am not a crier.  I was a reporter for 17 years, for God’s sake.  I don’t do sappy, I don’t do weepy and I cannot stand that creepy Sarah McLachlan song on cable.  But in the last few weeks,  I have cried at home, in the newsroom, on the phone, on the radio and bar the DOOR if I’m in my car.  Steer clear of red lights and yacht rock.  I’m serious.  Norah Jones is your enemy right now.   I have lost my shit listening to Elton John, Taylor Swift, Willie Nelson, The Beatles and their Golden Slumbers... and I’m sorry but once at 95th and Nall to Dionne Warwick and I refuse to admit which song because seriously WTF.   I have cried in private, and in public, and I have cried sitting alone at Starbucks at 9 in the morning on a Thursday.  

Let me warn you now that at the end of your child’s senior year, the school will ask you to pour your soul out on paper in a heartfelt “letter from mom.”  It’s the kind of thing our parents would have loathed.  Trust me.  When you get the email directing you to write your senior's letter, do NOT head into Starbucks with a laptop.  

I made it to sentence THREE and started crying like an idiot.  I remember thinking, who’s idea was this... SATAN'S?!?   This poor 20-something barista walks over to me - I will never forget it - and says “Ma’am, are you enjoying your Starbucks experience?”   No, I wasn’t.  And yes, that actually happened.   

LESSON #3:   We took too many pictures of these kids

The babies all heading off to college this week came into the world untouched by the glare of social media.  They burst into our lives before Twitter, SnapChat or Facebook.   When you open their baby books, you will find a few universal treasures:   the faded pink and blue striped stocking hat and a horribly ugly pink, green and blue hospital-issue baby blanket stamped with bunnies and beach balls.  From this box, you will pull tiny stamped feet prints, a state-mandated hearing test and a hard cover baby book.   The book is packed with newspaper announcements, cards, letters and hopes and dreams.  It is filled out perfectly and completely on every page.  My God, we showered that child with love and attention like there had never been another baby born in the universe.    

And if you keep digging through this tub of treasures,  you will find something else.  26,432 photographs shoved into undated, tattered envelopes from Walgreens. 

My God did we take photos. Actual photos. We have pictures of our son crowning in the delivery room.  We documented every move that kid made from the stirrups forward.   We documented this child in his crib, in a carseat, with our dog, with his grandparents and his beloved stuffed animals.  We documented his first steps, tooth and poop (black tar, mustard seeds) and potty training. Inside one bin, I found 14 copies of the same picture of him sitting in a wagon. Fourteen. He’s just sitting there. In a wagon.  

But I will tell you this:  If you’re like me, you did a horrible job organizing and maintaining these photos.  Because when it came time to find the ONE picture I wanted to show you today, it was nowhere to be found.  I can see it so clearly.  I am bent down beside him outside of his kindergarten classroom on his very first day at school.  He is clutching a Buzz Lightyear lunchbox.  He’s grinning ear to ear.  And I am about to lose it.  I want to scream at that young version of me, “PULL IT TOGETHER WOMAN!  YOU HAVE A WHOLE 677 WEEKS LEFT!!!!”  I would promise her that the baby with the Toy Story lunch pail would grow into an incredibly handsome young man.  And I would gently remind her that one day soon she would be crying again outside of a school as she said goodbye to him at age 18.   

Found it! 

LESSON #4:   Your child is not randomly sobbing in their car or in a coffee shop as they prepare to leave you  

Letting go sucks.

I will acknowledge here that my generation has been called the worst generation of helicopter parents that ever existed and maybe we are.   But please remember, we all grew up with missing kids on milk cartons.   When our son was 12 weeks old, I jotted down our nanny’s license plate number as I left the house because I was so certain she might kidnap him.   I actually DID that.   She was an amazing, loving and attentive caregiver.   She was a double breast cancer survivor and a diabetic.   As I backed out of the driveway,  I thought,  “what a perfect cover for someone trying to steal my son.”    We are the generation of car seats and bicycle helmets and bubble wrap.  We put leashes on our toddlers at the park.  As they grew older, we gave them cell phones. 

And then one day, we stumbled upon the greatest invention in the history of humankind:  The Life 360 App!   Oh MY that thing is better than the advent of the wheel, electricity and the printing press combined.  It lets you track their location at any given moment within a few feet.  Take THAT kidnapper JERK GUY!   This summer, I asked my son to join my Life 360 family circle before he flew to California with a buddy for 8 days. 

I’ll never forget my husband saying to me, smiling, “Honey, you realize he’s now old enough to go to war…” 

LESSON #5:   That was NOT a helpful comment in the moment. And that’s the end of lesson number five.

LESSON #6:   Find your "mentor moms"

So despite my best efforts, my son has grown into an incredibly self-sufficient, kind, intelligent and empathetic young man.   Before his California trip, he booked his flight, made his travel arrangements, found his passport, headed to the airport and took off.  They didn’t call, write or text home. Not once.  While I might be struggling (a tad) to let go, he is absolutely ready to spread his wings.   And I am honestly so happy for him and his journey ahead.  

If you remember anything I tell you, remember that you have an army of moms and dads who have journeyed through this right of passage. Find them. Use them. Two weeks ago,  I started texting my 'mentor moms' to share my ups and downs about the whole thing.   Here are some of their insights:

“That first week, I felt like someone had ripped my arm off.”

“Oh yeah, you’ll feel like throwing up the entire week before and the entire week after,  and then it will be GREAT.”  

“I just didn’t feel right.  This is all totally normal and I’d be worried about you if you weren’t crying at stoplights.”   

One girlfriend jotted down my son’s departure date and told me, in no uncertain terms, that she was taking me out for wine that night.   Find your moms.  They are wise and they have been through this and they will drink with you.

LESSON #7:   My heart overflows with love and gratitude and yours will too

Looking back,  I am so grateful for each one of these 955 weeks. I am grateful for the first week and I am grateful for the last.  I will be grateful on Friday when we drive him to school and I come home alone. 

Let me tell you about my son.  He is fabulous and smart and handsome and kind.  He has the best hair you’ve ever seen in your life.  He throws his arms around me and kisses my face and tells me he loves me in front of all of his buddies. He calls me “Momma.” He is a great big brother. He does his own laundry. He is sweet. He is funny.  And I love having him around.   I believe this is why it has been so hard for me. I realize I have not called him by his name here. There are so many of them leaving home this week. He is them. And they are him. 

His name is Jack. And he is ready.  I love you so much,  sweet boy.  Week 955 is here.  Go and find your way in the world.


- Dana XOXO


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