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How We All Survived Our Teenager’s First Year of College

As my husband and I prepare to take our second son to college, it brings a rush of memory and emotion that surprise us both. When we dropped our oldest off at college three years ago, it was with tremendous pride, excitement, and tears. There was no way to predict how deeply we would miss him that first year of college and how nervous we were for his success.

An avid camper and backpacker, he scaled Mt. Rainier, the Cascades and the Canadian Rockies. As a student, he had proven to himself what hard work could produce and as a young man, he was a respectful, kind and thoughtful gentleman. With all of these survival tools at his fingertips, why did he look so nervous? Kissing us goodbye before his first dormitory meeting, we watched him cross the street and look back. All smiles, standing next to the car, we waved. Go on, I thought. Please, just go inside.

Holding on to the passenger door, I sobbed. I wanted him back – perhaps I wasn’t ready yet. Perhaps I had missed one critical lesson in parenting, one “Good Night Moon,” one more chance to smell his neck and kiss his forehead. As I slowly turned to the driver side of the car, I could see my husband, holding his face and crying. We caught each other wiping our eyes and noses on our dirty T-shirt bottoms and burst out laughing. It was the beginning of a transition that would take months to work through.

Surviving the First Year of College

Yes, it is so exciting but the truth remains that this very wonderful time is also a sensitive period for everyone. My husband and I agreed that we would not initiate phone calls – let him call us…and he did. Each day the phone rang less. He was getting his feet wet, finding his classes, making friends. We watched our other two children walk slowly past his room, going in and grabbing their favorite things; my daughter slept in his old camp shirt for weeks. My other son took advantage of anything he could get his hands on. Boxer shorts that were too big, and coveted high school sweatshirts he knew my oldest had intentionally left behind for him.

Our first parent’s weekend brought outrageous fun. But once we were home, I seemed to be floating through space and not really connecting. Finally, when Thanksgiving was just days away, my middle son came into the kitchen late one afternoon and said, “What makes you think you’re the only one that misses him so much?” My moment of reckoning, I had no answer but I clearly understood his question.

We all process that milestone in different ways, and we were all trying to get through his first year of college in our own way. My other children needed me to stop being so quiet and to move on.

And so I did. I discovered it was okay to embrace this change, recognizing the impact it had on everyone. Sending our next son to his freshman year of college will no doubt be a repeat of the first. But, I know what’s coming… and this time, I’ve packed the Kleenex.

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