Watching my son walk into kindergarten was terrifying. He was so small and his backpack was nearly bigger than him. He had been excited for weeks, but now with the door just a few feet away, his eyes filled with tears and his chin quivered. He buried his head into the side of my leg. Then, fortunately, a helpful teacher’s aide whisked him through the doors.
I walked back to the car holding in tears, which of course, were released the moment I opened my car door and sat inside. I sniffled my way to work thinking about my little boy.
Fast-forward seven years. Now, he’s waiting at the bus stop for his first day of middle school. His binder is organized in a better-fitting backpack; his tennis shoes are new. I’m watching out my kitchen window as the bus pulls to a stop and opens the familiar, yellow doors. Please let him find someone to sit with at lunch. Please let his teachers be kind. Please . . . the list went on inside my head.
Three years of middle school, four years of high school, and then – suddenly – it’s the summer before college.
I’ve spent the last year visualizing dropping him off at school. In my mind, I could see my husband and I carrying bins of clothes up the stairs to his dorm. I imagined his roommate, his roommate’s parents, and other families anxiously hustling through the hallways. And I imagined myself catching the eyes of other moms, exchanging both knowing and sympathetic looks.
I would picture my son, too: Nervous and hesitant.
When these images filled my mind and my heart began to sting, I would remind myself not to stress about it yet. After all, we still have the summer before college.
Ah, the summer before college. It is a mother’s soothing balm. It is the phrase that leads to thoughts of late August. These precious three months, the slowing of the clock, the pause button I relish before I have to let go.
What is a mom supposed to do with the time? We have a graduation party to plan, a dorm to shop for, and if we’re fortunate – a few family outings. We have financial aid forms to complete, courses to choose from, and a major to claim (already?).
The summer before college I am scattered. One moment I am cooking my son’s favorite meal, and the next I’m irritated that he hasn’t contacted his academic advisor yet. One moment I want to watch a movie together, and the next, I insist on giving him a laundry lesson.
Before I know it, I notice the summer sun becoming less intense and the bright green leaves on the trees turning a soft yellow. Move-in day is now just a week away.
I hate to admit this, but my thoughts become guilt-ridden. My husband says nothing and simply rolls his eyes when – in the middle of making coffee – I ask questions like, “Why didn’t we take the kids camping more?” I mentally go over the last eighteen years, attempting to convince myself we spent it well.
When moving day arrives, we do exactly what I remember doing back when I left for college: We pack the car, stop for lunch on the way, and park in the closest lot outside of the dorm. Only an hour later, everything is unpacked. The dorm looks like it could be out of 1995 with its cinder block walls, long, narrow hallways, and wood doorways opening to the same tiny square rooms. My son glances around this space that will be his new home. He opens up the window and looks out at the yard below, the buildings across the quad, and the autumn trees.
It’s time to leave, and I don’t know what he’s feeling. My heart is pounding. He waits a few moments longer and then turns to us. Is he going to cry? I worry.
And then he says, as if he can’t hold it in any longer, “I am so freakin’ excited!”
He glances around the room (eighteen years of stuff shoved into this place) and I can, for the first time, feel the energy and the readiness radiating from him. His roommate peeks his head in the door.
“They’re serving pizza in the union,” he says to my son. “Let’s go!”
My son glances at me, asking permission with his eyes, or more likely, he’s checking to see if I’m okay.
We quickly hug – I cling a bit longer than he would like – and my husband and I step out of the dorm, walk back through the hallway, down to the car, and drive home.
My heart sighs with relief.
During the summer before college, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would feel, and how I would handle this day. But, at this moment, it isn’t about me. It really never was.
This moment is all his.