Off to college….lessons learned


Tomorrow is the end of an era in our family and the beginning of something new.  Tomorrow we move my first born to her college dorm. My living room is full of suitcases, crates, and bags of bedding. Her father will be here in the morning to make a convoy with me to haul all her loot the hour away to the university. She did her due diligence and worked for an academic scholarship and a music scholarship for marching in the band. She will report two hours after move-in to start band rehearsal. Her first year is completely paid in full. We are so blessed.

But as her mother, I of course am worried.  Will she keep her room clean so her roommate won’t strangle her in her sleep with dirty clothes?  Is she going to stay focused on her studies and music enough to keep the scholarships?  Will she keep her head straight and not run after parties and boys?  Well, she can’t get into too much mischief with just a bicycle on campus and no car, right?  Oh, don’t answer that.  And last, is she going to miss me like I will miss her and have come to depend on her?  Well most likely the last one will be a no. She is in fact very independent, except not having her driver’s license yet or a car. She will probably only miss me folding her clothes and always having leftovers in the refrigerator, I suppose.

In these recent momentous turning points for her, I have been remembering what it was like for me when I graduated high school and left for college. And then I put myself in my own mother’s shoes.  My mother was unfamiliar with going off to a large university. My parents married when my mother was still in her senior year in high school.  Mom attended secretarial school and my father was a mechanic before he passed. While I am not the oldest of my mother’s children, I was the first to trek this path to college in a dorm right after high school.

I will never forget the day I left to move in the dorm. My mother had been to campus with me for Orientation weekend the prior month. She had toured, talked to professors and other parents, spent a night in the dorms and eaten in the cafeteria. She had been reassured I was going to be okay and thrive there. So on the assigned day to leave, she helped me pack my car with the required bedding, toiletries and some clothes. (That was all I really needed, right? Like going to camp for a long time?) When all was packed and I had delayed long enough, I realized she was not coming with me. She hugged me and told me that I knew the way. I knew where the Housing office was and could put on my own sheets. She prayed over me and said she loved me. And she stood in the driveway and waited for me to get in my car and leave.

At first, I was furious that she wasn’t going with me. Was she not concerned? Did she not want to help me?  Then I was scared. She is not going with me?  I have to do this all by myself? ALL BY MYSELF?  But as I backed down the driveway, I remember having a weight lifted off of me as I exhaled and thought, “I am free. I am a grown up. I am no longer under her rule. Sink or swim, it is just me and God. My scholarship, my academics, my life.”  I look back and realize how very, very hard that must have been for my mother to watch me drive away, and for her to push me out of the nest to watch me fly.

In my teen years, I used to resent my mother for our life. She sometimes worked two jobs and I had to take care of my younger brother and sister. While she was at a 2nd job, after I got home from school, I had to make dinner and do chores like wash clothes, which meant hauling them to the apartment laundry mat, or help my siblings with their homework. I felt I never had time for my own homework. I certainly did not have time for dates or parties. I resented her for making me ride the school bus. Especially when I missed the said school bus on my sixteenth birthday and I called mother for permission to just stay home that day. She was at work and told me I better start walking the two miles to school then. I had missed the bus and I had better show up, even if I was late. (She did at least call ahead to the school to tell them I was on my way.) At the time, I felt humiliated. I felt ALL my classmates were given cars on their sixteenth birthday and I missed the bus. How much lower could I be?  What I realize now, is that she taught me hard lessons. Face your reality. Face the consequences of your actions. Do what you can with what you are given. I admire her more now for teaching me those lessons and pushing me out of the nest to fly on my own.  I can now see my long, lonely drive to college was to both liberate and strengthen me.  I faced the fear and I was stronger for it.

While I will drive my daughter to her dorm tomorrow, mainly because she doesn’t have a car, I am anxious mostly because I worry that I did not teach her enough hard lessons. Does she know to face reality? Can she face the consequences of her actions? Can she learn to use what God has given her to succeed?  Well time will tell. I am hopeful that while she might resent me now from time to time, maybe, just maybe, one day she will realize that the lessons taught were not because I was being mean, but because I wanted her to fly.



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