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Heading to College: Making the Break While Staying Connected

I was always told that as soon as you go to college, your connection with your parents begins to diminish. It made sense to me, but as college approached, I started getting nervous about losing the closeness with my parents. I was scared to lose the long shopping trips I had with my mom or our wrestling matches in my parents’ bed as my dad yelled at us to be quiet. I didn’t want to miss out on the Bachelor-watching nights I had with my dad, where we would gossip about the contestants while snacking on bowls of ice cream.

Before leaving for college, the longest I had been away from my parents was ten days spent in New York with relatives. College was insanely different from a vacation—this was almost permanent.

Move-in weekend was the calm before the storm. While we knew what was coming, no one said anything. We drove down to San Diego from Irvine in our family’s SUV, the three of us talking and laughing the whole way. We spent hours at Target finding furnishings for my dorm room and had a few meals before my parents headed home. I was the only child for a weekend, something I hadn’t been since I was three years old.

Saying Goodbye to My Parents

I always wanted to have my parents to myself, but being one of three kid made that difficult. Sure, my mom and I would go on shopping excursions and my dad and I would talk about sports, but it wasn’t the same as having their undivided attention. When I found out that it would just be three of us on move-in weekend, I was ecstatic. It felt like I had been gifted the opportunity to spend the last moments of my childhood with them.

Saying goodbye to them was the hardest thing for me.

My dad, the strongest person I know—and the best at hiding his emotions from the world—got emotional while hugging me goodbye. I tried to hold back the tears. But when I saw him crying, it was like the dam holding back my tears broke too.

My mom, the one we had expected to break down, just stood by quietly, more stoic than my dad or me. In that moment, I wondered how I would continue to grow and strengthen my relationships with them when they weren’t there to scold me into doing the laundry or feed me home-cooked meals. I reminded myself they were only a phone call away. And it wasn’t like I was moving to Europe—I would just be a couple hours south.

Since the last time I was an only child at the age of three, I had never spent that much uninterrupted time with my parents. I felt as though 15 years of sharing them with my brothers had culminated in one weekend where I was able to have their undivided attention. I felt so close to them that it was harder than ever to believe they would be leaving me in San Diego when they returned home. But somehow, I knew that everything would be okay. And it has been.

We Are Still Connected

I’ve come to realize my relationship with my parents is stronger than just physical proximity.

As weird as it was to watch my parents get in our old GMC and drive home to my brothers and dogs without me, I had never felt closer or more connected to them. At first I wasn’t sure how to stay connected. Now we stay connected in new ways, with me calling my dad weekly to debrief on Bachelor and sending my online shopping selections to my mom for her to approve or deny.

It’s not exactly the same, but that’s what going away to college is all about, right? Experiencing life in a new way. I know my parents will be there when I go home for Thanksgiving break. And our connection will be just as strong as it has always been. Maybe even stronger.

Cassidy Hilmar is a first-year student at San Diego State University. She’s from Orange County, California and enjoys going to the beach and spending time with her family, friends, and dogs.

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