You don’t know it at the time but when the nurse hands you that tiny, just born person the letting go process has begun.
You miss the first subtle markers of the passage of time because they are overshadowed by the cataclysmic changes that occurred to your former life. The more noticeable letting go moments come in the form of first days – the first day of daycare, pre-school and kindergarten.
The remainder of elementary school feels like a letting go plateau. If anything you feel like you are gaining – new friends, sports, the birthday party circuit and playdates.
When your child begins middle school you realize that you were in denial and there was no plateau. Overnight your child wants you to leave them alone and you are not ready. Thankfully, middle school is a universally unappealing phase of life and leaving them alone is not really as hard as you imagined.
This stage continues until they are about fifteen or sixteen. Ever so slight shifts in hormonal levels and frontal cortex functioning allows for the opportunity to reconnect with your teenager – but on different terms. They are older and so are you. This is when the letting go really picks up speed. You become a moon on the edge of your child’s expanding universe. Ironically, your teenager feels tethered when they look out at the horizon and see freedom and adulthood.
College drop off brings the letting go to full circle. You are handing your child back to a world that let you borrow them for eighteen years, surrounded by other parents who also can’t believe that this time has come. We all look old, sad and proud against the backdrop of youth, potential and anticipation.
It’s not a particularly glamorous moment for parents. Our faces are blotchy and our eyes are red. It’s difficult to talk because any attempt to do so will dislodge the lump in our throats that keeps us from crying.
Try to minimize your child’s embarrassment at college drop off. Your child is sad too, but would still rather have hired a stranger to haul all their stuff up to their new room. Don’t wear a t-shirt with the name of your child’s school. You will look desperate and are automatically branded as a parent. Trust me on this one. Go ahead and buy the shirt but wear it later.
You return home and readjust your life to allow for their absence. You accept that letting go is natural and your child’s successful launching is a blessing. Unfortunately, every time your child comes home for breaks and leaves you have to repeat the college drop-off stage of letting go over and over again.
We drove Leo to the airport this morning as he heads into his spring semester. I waited until we got back to put on my orange and blue college t-shirt and write this post in my office, aka Leo’s bedroom when he is home.
My face is blotchy and my eyes are red.