Oh, what a journey, this letting go! From diapers to diplomas, we do our best. We invest our time and our souls into our offspring. We kiss boo-boos and read Love You Forever and Oh, The Places You’ll Go! We attend band concerts, scout meetings, and parent-teacher conferences. We instill values and teach character.
We celebrate the things that make our children unique and wonderful. We laugh with them and cry with them. Sometimes we even cry for them.
We endure sleepless nights, papier-mâché elephants, swimming lessons, and broken curfews. We keep them as safe as we can, clinging to their little hands and teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street.
And then it happens. They grow up. They let go. And so must we.
Below is the letter I left on our daughter’s pillow on her freshman move-in day — the day I clung to my husband’s hand and barely made it across the street to the parking lot. It was the day I chose to let go and allow her to embark on her voyage into adulthood. It was the day that made me proud and tore my heart to shreds at the same time.
The letter offered the words I could not speak but I felt needed to be said. Even now, nearly two years later, I tear up when I read them. The emotions of that season still swell within me. But they’re a part of my story, her voyage, our lives.
What could my words possibly mean to you? They’re proof that you can — and will — survive this journey. You may ache. You may hit some turbulent waters. But you’ll also find great joy in the moments of growth — yours and your child’s — throughout the freshman voyage.
As you head off to Drake this week, I am fighting mixed feelings. I know you’re ready and eager to go. I want you to have this time, your college years, to evolve as the woman you will become. I really do. But another part of me — the clingy, terrified maternal part — wants to pull you close and not let go. I realize this is irrational, and I admit it. But rational or not, it is real. Always know you are loved and that I only want what is best for you. That is why I will let you go — no matter how much my instincts are fighting to grasp at fragments of the little girl I’m afraid to lose.
I can only imagine what your future may hold. But knowing you, it will be out-of-the-box. Whether through nature or nurture or necessity, you’ve developed a gift for tenacity and for seeking out your own path. Your open mind and love of people will serve you well.
So go. Go experience life. Embrace new people and new ideas. Please remember what a privilege it is to have this opportunity and make the most out of it. Take advantage of the resources and the freedoms that are unique to these years of your life. Study hard. Play hard. Work hard. College is about more than just academics.
As you go, please remain both humble and grateful. Not everybody gets to have this experience, so appreciate it. All of it. Even the crabby professors. The community bathrooms. The cafeteria food. You’ll take away something from every aspect, both positive and negative. A grateful heart will help you be a gracious person.
Immerse yourself in your new environment, but please don’t forget me. Call home once in a while just to let me know what’s going on in your life. I may not be so shocked by what you’ll share with me. I’ve likely already tried it myself. I may even have some useful insights to share with you, if you want them. In spite of my dinosaur status, remember that I was your age once. I was a vibrant, energetic, curious college student too. I’ve not forgotten the mixed emotions and the stressors. I remember the insecurities. And the fun. Baby, don’t forget to have fun.
Nobody loves you more than I do. Nobody wants your success more than I do. I will always support you, but your future is up to you.
For now, I’ll do my best to let you go.
This excerpt is from the book Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage by Kelly Radi.
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