Two weekends ago I took my 18 year old daughter to college.
We flew out together to a campus on the other side of the country, where I helped her move into her dorm room, bought her a veritable sh**t load of dorm supplies at Target, helped her buy her text books (meaning I provided the credit card), attended a few orientations and met her room-mate; the one person on the entire campus that my daughter knew (and they’d really only texted and Facebooked each other a few times during the summer.)
And then I hugged her, told her I loved her, walked out of the dorm, got into my rental car and drove back to the airport to get on a plane back to the East coast.
Leaving my beloved first born child on the other side of the country all by herself.
It was, to put it mildly, one of the most terrifying and confusing weekends of my existence. I dreamed about her at night; blurry, surreal and confusing dreams about the beautiful campus, the dorm and my daughter.
I have so many emotions. In some ways I feel like I’ve got one under my belt. The day I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my first thought was of my two kids who were 12 and 14 at the time. A primary goal I’ve had for my two kids since they were born has been to see them off to college and to make sure they get through their college years with as much support and love as possible so that they’re set up for life on their own as adults.
As I was going through the weekend with my daughter, I kept feeling waves of gratitude that I’m alive and able to be here to see her off to college. One down, one to go. Looking at life in landmark moments like this makes me grateful and full, to know that I’m still here, healthy and whole and around to send my kids off to college.
And the icing on the cake? She likes it. She’s settling into her new routine; getting up early for 8:00 a.m. classes, exploring the campus, meeting new people, loving her dorm room (she says it’s Swagalicious) and taking exercise classes at the amazing campus rec center (believe me, there was nothing like this when I was going to college many years ago). She texts me and I call her periodically which is reassuring for me, and hopefully for her as well.
I got a lot of wonderful information from many of the women bloggers I’ve met online through Midlife Boulevard who shared lots of great advice about how to prepare for and manage through the college process. I’m grateful to the many women who shared their experiences, which helped me prepare both mentally and physically for the emotional roller coaster ride of sending my first child off to college. Special thanks to Grown and Flown, who shared so many useful articles on how to prepare for this experience.
For my friends who will be going through this in the future, here are my top 5 pieces of advice.
- Be flexible about rules during this last summer. They may test your patience as they’re flexing their muscles and learning to grow apart from you, so try to be flexible and don’t get too crazy about rules during this last summer at home. My daughter was out and about with friends 99% of the time this summer and we hardly ever saw her, but ultimately I trusted her to make good choices. I wanted this last summer to be one that was full of memories and love for her, so my husband and I didn’t make a lot of rules and we let her pretty much come and go as she wanted, as long as she told us where she was and answered our texts.
- Plan a summer vacation together as a family, if you can. It may be the last time you’ll all spend together as a family once they get into college life. Make it low key and give them lots of time to just relax and chill, so that they’re ready for the whirlwind of college.
- Order college linens and bedding on line. If your college is far away from home, and they offer this service I heartily suggest that you take advantage of it. The bedding provided will fit those extra long dorm mattresses, it’s very affordable, good quality and you’ll be able to pick the package up on campus the day of move-in without shipping it across country which saves a lot of money and headaches.
- Don’t let your own fears and anxiety about leaving your kid in the middle of nowhere with strangers bubble over onto them. This process is about THEM, not about you. Suck it up and be strong for them (this was advice I kept repeating to myself in my head during the entire weekend). I managed to get through the entire weekend without crying in front of her. I figured there was time to cry by myself on the long flight home, and surprisingly, I never did really lose it. I think the fact that the campus looks like a 5-Star resort may have something to do with it.
- Stay in close touch for the first few weeks. I’m not a helicopter parent, as my own parents were exceedingly hands off parents, so I’ve always wrestled with just how involved to be with my own kids. For the first week after I dropped her off, I just made the decision that it was fine for me to text her and call her a couple of times every day. Since she always responded or picked up the phone, I figured it was okay with her.
Now that we’re into the 2nd week of school, I’m scaling back a bit, but still keeping close. It’s a fine line and I’m certainly not the master but make sure you test how involved to be with your own child and make the judgement call on how much interaction they need. When I was leaving, I made a point of telling her that she could call me any time, any day, any hour of the day or night and that I would always be there to listen, whether it’s good news or bad news. I’m keeping my cell phone on and next to the bed every night, just in case she calls so that she knows that no matter how far away she is, I’m always here to listen and help if she’s in any kind of trouble or just needs to talk.
Now I’m starting the process all over again for my 16 year old son who’s a high school Junior. Have I mentioned how quickly high school flies by? Hug your kids, don’t sweat the small stuff, it all goes by very quickly!