“I’m not all knowing yet, but I am knowing.” ~Joe, age 6
Our son starts college next week. Although it’s taken 19.5 years to get to this milestone and I’ve had ample time to prepare myself for its eventuality, I find myself shellshocked. Not going to lie. This transition has hit me harder than I thought it would. You see, since my sons were born, I’ve played a little game with my heart. I’ve tried to convince it (and rightly so) that my sons are not mine. I mean, they’re mine biologically, but I have spent their lifetimes reminding myself that they don’t belong to me. They are now and have always been their own entities. I have carried on this charade in my head to protect myself because life is precarious. You may create their existence, but your offspring are meant to leave you, one way or another. The job of parenting is both the best and worst on earth. You get to witness the growth and development of this amazing creature who is part you but wholly not you, and then you get to stand and wave goodbye as they (hopefully) get into their own car, pull into their lane, and drive away. What a stupid, incredible ride we’re on.
My oldest has been my nearly constant companion. He is, what others negatively describe, as a momma’s boy. He’s my buddy. I’m not his friend, but he is mine. His absence is going to affect so many aspects of the life I have known that I don’t know how to begin to process it. The only thing keeping me afloat right now is the flip side, the narrative that I have pushed since he was born. He’s his own person, and he deserves and has worked hard for his chance to explore his purpose, to take his opportunities and see where they might lead him. And while I will miss him like crazy, I have also never been more proud of anything in my life. This kid is boundless. He’s no stranger to difficulty. And true to his new school’s motto, per ardua surgo — through adversity I rise — he has, and I believe he will continue to do so.
When he was finishing first grade and told me through tears that he didn’t want to go on to second grade because he was too dumb, I worried. How was this kid going to thrive? How would we get him there? It took a while to get him on the right path, but we did it. I found help. I found school psychologists and hospital psychiatrists who explained to me what obstacles he needed to overcome. I sought out schools that would help him develop not only study skills and common knowledge, but life and coping skills. And along the way, he learned how he works. He has a deeper understanding of who he is at 19 than I had of myself until just recently. He has that self-knowledge because I helped him change his narrative. Together, we flipped that script. I pointed him the right direction, and he did the work. Our persistence has brought us to the week he leaves for college. And I am a tangled mess of emotion, equal parts excitement and weepiness. What I am not, however, is anxious, because I’ve seen this kid discover his own power. I know he gets it.
In the end, when he is off at school, what I will be left with is a wise and grateful heart. I know he has roots. He loves his family. He knows what home means and he carries it everywhere he goes. I’ve done a mother’s job and I’ve done it well enough. Now it’s time for us both to grow again, to expand our horizons, to stand on the precipice of the future with our eyes trained on what possibilities lie ahead for us. We may not be together, but we will never be apart because we share a story. We’re just beginning a new chapter. And while I don’t know where this story goes from here, I have reason to believe its authors know how to craft a compelling script.