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Blue Transition

Posted: October 4, 2012 1:25 p.m.
Updated: October 5, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Six weeks have passed since my oldest son walked through our back door. The mere mention of this makes the stretch seem even longer. Of course, aside from a normal dose of missing their brother, for his siblings, this time represents six weeks of more slices of pizza at dinner, shorter waits for the bathroom, and total control of the TV remote. For me, it suggests more intangibles. It is the void, the missing place setting at our table, and the one less body charging down the stairs for breakfast like a horse running for open country.

Going to college can be described for the ones leaving as a “rite of passage,” or should it be described as the “right” to finally do anything they want all without their parents’ consent? Well, OK, perhaps not. Though for those entering college, it will mean leaving the friendly confides of their hometown; leaving behind most of what they deem familiar and ordinary. They are departing from family, friends, routines for a new life chocked full of challenge and adjustment. The old formula for our high school students was fairly straightforward: class, homework, work/activities, friends. With a few minor changes along the way, the formula remained relatively constant year after year until now. Here at the intersection of familiar and unacquainted, the blueprint has become far more complex for our college freshmen. Their constants like home, old friends and routines disappear and are replaced by a set of variables yet to be determined. They’ll be redefining who they are and how they will interact with the world from this point on. In essence, they are doing a virtual makeover of their lives.

Pair all of this with the ever so popular intense regime of academics, and the transition to college can be overwhelming. However, as parents, we must believe that, for the last 18 years, our children have taken in a notable portion of the wisdoms and life-lessons we’ve placed before them. So with this valuable distinction, the conversion from our teens to young adult, we hope, will go smoothly.

For many of us, this is the year we will send our first-born off to school. When it’s the oldest child leaving home, it sends a sobering signal of the progression of life. We can’t slow the train, though I believe it to be a fair assumption that we’ve all tried. The phrase “cut the cord” has never had more meaning than now. This has been the hardest part for me. On the other hand, the essential preparations of physically setting up my child for college were easy. He’s a boy. There were no decorating meetings on Facebook with his roommate to determine a color scheme for their room. It just doesn’t work that way for boys. One trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond and one to Walmart sufficed. His choices included a blue comforter, two sets of blue sheets, and two sets of blue towels all in different hues of blue. The contrasting shades went together about as well as college students and credit cards do. His choices would remain final and we moved on to the pertinent life skills of laundry, budget, eating right, hygiene, sleep and organization. Then came the whole “cutting the cord” portion of the transition. It is simply impossible that my son was born yesterday and the very next day we are driving him to college. Exactly how does that work? I’m striving for the balance between phone calls, text messages, emails while we both learn to manage change and the feeling of disconnect. The components of this change will be different for each of us. My emotions have been unpredictable over the last six weeks. The toughest part has been confronting the reality of being out of sync with my son’s new “world.” I do know it doesn’t mean he needs us less; it means he’ll need us differently. I imagine the goal here is to not stop being a parent, but to evolve in to a parent who supportively enables and empowers their child to blaze their own trail backed by 18 years of love and lessons.

The best advice I received at orientation this summer was from the dean of student affairs. He was speaking from his own experience when he said “prepare now for the moment you will say good-bye.” And at 5 p.m. as we were preparing to leave, I thought of his advice and smiled at the truth he had spoken. We spent 18 years loving our son and it wouldn’t stop this day even as we began the gradual process of letting go. There was not a doubt in his mind of how much he was loved and how much backup was waiting for him at any given moment. After all the hugs and the tears, he looked at his dad and me and said, “what do I do now?”

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