What to bring? What to leave behind?
The school she picked is only two hours away, but it could be two doors down the street and I’d still be feeling like I am right now: elated, proud, optimistic…and wistful.
She’s my first to go off to college. Many people who read this post have already gone through this transition. Many others have years before this parent-child milestone is reached. What I’m about to write is a huge cliche, but there’s a reason it is:
The years go by way too fast, and that’s the truth.
Faster than you can possibly imagine, especially when you are in the throes of sleepless nights, car pooling to a zillion activities, managing the increasing homework load, cooking meals, cleaning up meals, connecting with your spouse or partner so you can keep that relationship alive, trying to find a few minutes — even just one — to be alone with your thoughts, all while being the loving, caring, patient and understanding parent you vowed you would be the day you found out you were bringing a new life into this world.
Throw a 50+ hour work week into the mix and there you have it.
Back when I headed off to college — a 3,000 mile journey from one coast to another — social media wasn’t even an idea yet. We had snail mail and a telephone attached to the wall to stay in touch and up to date. My parents tell the story that when they put me on the plane at JFK that day in late August thirty years ago, they knew I was not coming back. Of course I’ve been back to visit, many times. And with online platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, we can keep up with each other every hour on the hour if we so desire.
But they were right. I wasn’t coming back. I had my sites set on new adventures in the Pacific Northwest, and I made good on the goals I had set for myself. I made new friends and built a new life, messy as that process was. The mistakes and failed experiments were all par for the course, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
That’s one of the best parts about going to college, even in this day of college-bashing and college-questioning — the chance to explore and reflect and grow in an environment that challenges your intellect, your social skills, your decision making abilities, your values. The four years between 18 and 22 are some of the most transformative of our lives, and I couldn’t be more excited for my daughter and the millions of other young people who set out this fall to start the next chapter of their lives and run the experiments they need to run in order to grow and mature and continue becoming more of who they already are.
The world today is a different place than it was for my generation, as it should be. Young people entering college have not really known life without some kind of personal screen or social media outlet. Big wins and small victories can be shared in an instant, increasing the sense of being together even when geography tells us we are actually very far apart.
Every day I see posts on Facebook about milestones, big and small. I delight in the stories of new babies, kids heading off to kindergarten — or their senior year of high school. New jobs. Adventures overseas. Family reunions. Pets, past and present. This social platform so many of us spend time on is a constant reminder of Life’s Grand Journey.
It’s remarkable when you stop to think about how quickly social media has brought millions of us together to share in the big and small moments of our lives. As the countdown timer ticks down to liftoff for both daughter and mother in rockets heading in wildly different directions, I can’t help but be especially grateful to have places where I can share this milestone with a community of people I appreciate and love.
Who are happy to share in the journey.
Who get this.
That, in the end, is the secret to surviving sending your first born to college — or any other of life’s milestones.
Reach out. Share. And always keep in touch.