Send your child off to college and start something new

Every fall, I feel a tug back to the moment when my kids abandoned my ship and launched their own to go off to college. Oh, the heartbreak, the relative silence in the house, the too few people for dinner.

Did I want them to stay home and continue to be their complex and intriguing selves right under my nose? Yes. But I knew better. I had experience.

As the only child of a single mother who had shaped her life around mine, I knew that I had to steel myself to leave, and I did. When it came my turn, I steeled myself to be left, and off they went. Something was over that would never be back. The circle of life continues.

Looking back, I see that part of my longing had nothing to do with my own kids, but with what I was about to plunge into myself – the abyss of my mother’s growing dementia. With her, I would be traveling in the opposite direction, not toward the excitement of independence, but toward her utter dependence, once an unthinkable outcome for the most self-sufficient person I knew.

She always said she had a pang in the fall too, when school started. She missed the excitement of new things to learn, the fresh start. In her years as a CPS schoolteacher, the excitement faded with each year harder than the last, until she left to embrace a calmer life as an editor, a job she loved.

To those who are facing the goodbye this year, I can only say I get it. You’re not done yet. They’re not done yet. But they have to finish the job themselves. You have your own life to face, whatever is around the corner for you. This is your time to grow too.

Chances are that they’ll still need you, and that they’ll come to know that you need them too, but maybe not yet. This is one of those moments when your life takes a turn whether you’re ready or not. It helps if you start up something new yourself. My mother went to graduate school; I started writing a book. It’s your turn.

In the meantime, here is my original account of my first goodbye.


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