This column first was published in August 2016. It’s appropriate for a reprint.
For a couple of weeks Kleenex sales in Levittown were up as moms bid farewell to their college-age children. Dads had private lumps in their throats, but many moms were sobbing throughout the car ride back (and online) and as they sat in their child’s empty room at home, treasuring the lonely last dirty sock left on the floor.
The grandparents of these college-bound children have been less weepy. They’re proud and excited for their grandchildren and recalled a time when they were the nervous parents of their own children. Yet somehow they got over it. And they want to tell the mothers of the new college crowd to “get over it” too, but they know that won’t help. Everyone has to go through his or her own passage.
Why the weeping? This is at first a mystery since the weeks leading up to the college trip was filled with nagging, arguments, lost tempers, and really — was your child at home that much? In fact much of the arguing might have been about what he or she was doing instead of being home. Wouldn’t it seem that leaving the nest would be a source of relief instead of grief?
I suspect there are several things going on. When a child goes off to college it signals to a parent that they’re done. The parent is now officially old. While it’s not quite time to go into the nursing home, parents can’t pretend they’re still growing up. Nope. The weeping is partially a mourning for lost youth. And they’re done being the constant important guide in their child’s life. Wait! There were a few more things you wanted to share with them. But it’s too late. The weeping is also about lost opportunities, words never spoken, guidance not given.
So this column is for those who foolishly think that the day when they send their child off to college is a long time away. The truth is before you know it, your children will be gone. To spare you regret, might I suggest this little exercise: pretend that your young child is now grown and waving to you from the dorm room window. Imagine what you would have wanted him or her to have experienced with you before that moment. What might you regret not having said or done? Then look at the days ahead as a chance to get busy about those things. Laugh more. Forgive more. Pray more. Cook together more. Listen more. Help others more.
And while you’re doing things with your children, why not bake some cookies together and mail them off to someone else’s kid who is off at college and is perhaps using an extra Kleenex or two — though they’re not going to admit that.