Learning to Let Go of My College-Bound Son

by Julie Burton
Originally Published: 

I told myself this six months ago when my oldest son began his high school senior year. I even wrote it down. Published it in a blog post. I told myself it would be easier this time with my second child. And yet here I am, six months later, realizing that my “terrible at letting go” assertion was a massive understatement. Because during these past cold Minnesota winter months, my heart froze with fear as I fought to reconcile the flurry of blustery emotions that swirled within me, and within my son. I fought to separate them, to clearly differentiate my feelings from my son’s. But how can you divide snowflakes during a snowstorm?

ACTs. College Applications. Waiting. Hope. Rejection. Deflated. Waiting. Accepted. Elated. Confused. Euphoric. Scared. He’s ready. Not even close to ready. It is so time for him to go. Can time just stand still, please? “Leave me alone, Mom.” “Mom, when will you be home?” Agony. Excitement. Confused some more.

But thankfully, the dark, heaviness and frigidity of winter began to lighten as the days lengthened, and the warmer air induced the thaw. Spring illuminated the beauty of transitions, and with the melting of the snow came the melting of many unknowns. And yet, even with my son’s college decision made and graduation festivities just around the corner, I have yet to discover how many rays of sunshine it will take to melt this iceberg in my chest.

As I have rejoiced in the warmth of this season and in allowing myself to experience the relief, pride, excitement and “you’ve done your job!” feelings, I have also felt the tug and the uncertainty of this transition. The process of letting your child go pulls, rips, lingers, haunts and excites. It runs deep, for both mother and child. I know for certain my son senses it from me as much as I try to keep it from him. I see it in his intense green eyes when he doesn’t know I am watching him.

I wonder if he has a heightened awareness of the passage of time, as I do. Does he feel the anticipation of spring morphing into summer, and does he, like me, mark summer as the end and the beginning? Or is he living in the moment, cherishing the lasts, enjoying the last leg of this part of his journey—which is what I should be doing? And, oh, how I am trying.

But there are those moments when my mind just goes there. To the end of the summer when three of us will board the flight that will take us 2,000 miles to my son’s new home. And two of us, my husband and I, will take the return flight without him. My son will remain across the country where he will build his college life—a life that will not include me being able to hug him goodnight or experience the contented happiness I feel every morning upon hearing and then seeing him barrel down the stairs before he dashes out to his car, his younger siblings following him like little ducklings, as they climb into the back seat for their daily ride to school. At the end of the day, I will not hear him walk in the door after school or basketball or baseball, greeting me with the same four words each and every day, “Hi Mom, I’m hungry.”

No, these realities, which I now find myself savoring more and more each day, will become memories. And I will only learn about his new life through intermittent phone calls or texts in which he’ll decide what to report, but I won’t be able to look in his eyes and see what he doesn’t tell me. I doubt he will mention that he misses me. I am certain he will know that I miss him. And I hope he will understand that the 2,000 miles that separate us will do nothing to lessen my desire to protect, nurture, teach and love him, as I have for the past 18 years.

Spring is the season of transformation and letting go—the melting of fear and the blossoming of new beginnings, the final stage of preparing the eaglet for his solo flight, while the mother readies herself to let him go, so he can fly freely and confidently from the nest.

It’s almost that time. But not quite yet.

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