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  • Nancy Fries

The Send-off

Part 1: August 27, 2014

Reed College, Class of 2018. There's my son in the front row, second from the right.

So I'm aboard a plane taking me home, which is 1,000 miles away from where I just left my firstborn child to spend the better part of the next four years. Of course we've always dreamed—expected, even—that he would go to college. Of course we're thrilled he was accepted to and chose to attend a college that fits his academic and personal interests so well. Of course I should be ecstatically happy. So why do I feel like my heart has been ripped out?


This transition is not easy. We mothers confront most of our children's transitions more gradually: Along a continuum, our infant becomes a baby becomes a toddler becomes a child. During the teenage years, we may long for the days when little feet would come pitter pattering down the hall to our bedrooms, soft warm bodies would climb into bed next to us, and sweet little voices would command, "Read." What we wouldn't give for one last chance to read The Hungry Caterpillar to a pajama-clad four-year-old. And, given the chance, we swear we wouldn't secretly skip a single page.


All those changes happen so gradually, but leaving your child, your teenager, your young adult at college is such an abrupt and final change that it sends you positively reeling. You reflect on their lives like a fast-moving flip book of still photos and can't fathom that your precious child will never live in your home the same way again. (Well, we hope not.) They'll be home for break, for summer, for Thanksgiving. It isn't as though our parenting is over. And yet.


There were moments after our farewell when I felt faint, that I needed support to stand. Intellectually, I know it's all good. And I'm hardly the first mom to go through this. My close friends and I have been exchanging updates throughout this whole process: "We're at Bed Bath and Beyond now!" "Here's a picture of her dorm room all set up!" So at least I know I'm not some kind of freak. I just didn't expect something so wonderful to be so painful at the same time.


Nine months later

So I'm aboard a plane taking me back to Portland to pick up my former baby/toddler/child/teenager/college freshman who is now a newly minted sophomore. All that stuff that seemed like such a Big Deal nine months ago? It really was and it really wasn't. The extra long sheets so lovingly selected from Bed Bath and Beyond? They fit the bed but he says they often slipped off and he never washed them all year. Never! The food in the dining hall was "gross" so he made a lot of ham sandwiches in the dorm kitchen. Mom wasn't there to buy the bread and ham and cheese or clean up so yeah he ate and hopefully cleaned up. Back home, we grew so accustomed to setting the table for three instead of four that I accidentally forgot to set him a place while he was home for spring break. I stopped looking longingly at the empty room with the untouched bed and passed it by like it was just normal. Because it was. Which doesn't mean I'm not happy he is coming home for the summer. It's just a whole new phase. One that came far too quickly but I am happy to report feels right. I don't really want a 19-year-old crawling into my bed asking me to read The Hungry Caterpillar. But if he asked, I would.

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