An Imperfect College Goodbye

19137734798_da1b7d2e3a_n-1I’ll admit I’ve been rolling my eyes at all the bittersweet college articles featured on the web this fall showcasing mothers slumped over their offspring’s shoulders! I was beyond that! My daughter will be a junior in college and now I was getting ready to drop off my son for his freshman year. Been there, done that. I’m a pro! This is enough! I thought about how parenting has taken an insane turn from laissez-faire to dictatorial! I thought we need to stop and engage with our own lives, interests, and friends. So, my baby was going off in the fall! No big deal! From shower caddies to bed bug mattress covers I had this covered – until I didn’t.

How could that be? Senior year was filled with so many unbearable unknowns how could I want to go back? How could I not celebrate? My son landed on his feet and is attending a great university. All was going well with the move – after wrangling with bedding paraphernalia that brought visions of Princess or rather Prince and the Pea to my eyes. The room was complete. We had a nice evening and boom the next day I found myself standing in front of my son’s dorm feeling as awkward as a perplexed 14-year-old at her first dance. We had one hour left as the Orientation Advisors cheerfully advised along with their subliminal hints that it was time to go! That’s what the line item said in the orientation pamphlet and though we had one hour until my son had to leave for an orientation session – we left. Standing in front of his dorm my son looked strong and manly, so unlike the child he was four years ago, but still harboring traces of the boy who bounded out of the house on the first day of high school. It was time and unlike those choreographed goodbyes of great movies (think Casablanca) I choked and could feel the tears creep out of my eyes and it was all wrong. Parents brandishing mattress toppers and Bed, Bath & Beyond bags were buzzing around us while the Orientation Advisors were doing their job of trying to vaporize us. I could imagine how school personnel prepped them on how to get rid of lingering parents as professionally as my friendly exterminator. So, a hug that’s all I got. A short hug and a shrug about whether or not we should go back to his room. Who do I have to blame now for the worst goodbye ever? How was my son going to collapse in my arms while surrounded by all of these new potential friends? How was I going to swoon like Scarlet O’Hara and have my quintessential “mother/son” moment? So that was a wrap. One hug each for my husband, daughter and me and that was goodbye! I glanced at his face and to my surprise the waterworks cascaded down my eyes as he looked away and asked us to say goodbye once again to his childhood pet, the furry lab rescue he named after Harry Potter. We adopted him because of his insistence and their brotherhood bond was eternally soldered.

The truth is I couldn’t look at his face or I would have been way, way worse than “those” moms I’ve been mocking all summer and fall clinging to their freshman. He said something about seeing us tomorrow, since we were staying one more night, but we said he would be too busy. I turned my head because there it was, visible to only me I saw the expression he had when I whisked him to the emergency room at just three years old for stitches, the look he had the first day I left him at nursery school, his middle school malaise frown and “when am I ever getting out of high school?” face. I could see them all. Yet, there was also a hint of anticipation and a nod that it would be ok. So, I walked away. I shocked my daughter as we strolled to the car in the trail of another mom dabbing her eyes and I laughed a little because that’s what us moms do. We cover up the heartbreak and move on even though I cried again in the car and while writing this blog post. In solidarity to all you moms out there who feel the heartbreak of this goodbye I’m with you all heart and soul.  The raising of a child is not for the faint of heart, so let your heart ride the wave of emotions even ugly cry if you need to and then pat yourself on the back and remember you’re braver than you think are – remember you survived high school. You’re also stronger than you thought possible, think of how many times you’ve held it together! I’m proud of my restraint; I didn’t ugly cry in front of my son’s potential friends and destroy any chance of him having a social life – and lastly perhaps you’re just a tad softer than you thought but that will be just our little secret!

photo credit: garciadiego769 <a href=”″>New horizons</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>


  1. Elisa McMullen says

    Hi Vilma – I hope this note finds you and the family all well. Well, I just had a good cry reading this. My oldest daughter Francesca who is now 23 did not go away to college, she stayed local, so I was spared. My middle child, Nicole, who is a Senior and very independent will be going away. We have been on a whirlwind of college visits and I already have a pit in my stomach. I do not want her to go away to college but that is pretty much a done deal. I too say to myself how did we get here so fast. I still have my youngest, Kevin Jr. in 9th grade but I want to keep them all within the walls of our home forever. I know this is not practical and I have to let them go but boy like you said this is not for the faint of heart. I find myself shedding tears at just about everything Nicole does these days that I know will be the last time – from school events to the simplest day to day things that she will not be here for next year. Who would have thought I could just crumble at these thoughts that haven’t even transpired yet, especially me, who grew up so Bronx tough – lol That was a lifetime ago. So, it is with a heavy heart that I read your article and will try and follow your advice and hope for the best. Tears will definitely flow but somehow like you and so many others I hope to come out of it with some dignity and I will try my best not to embarrass her but there are no guarantees!

    All the best – Elisa 🙂

  2. it is more than 20 years since I dropped my children off at college [they were one year apart in school; the acquisition of an empty nest was sudden] but I can still remember all the sad/glad feelings that roiled through me and the awful quietness of the house when we got home.Time marches on. Our adult children bring us new joys and interesting challenges, even tho they don’t live under our roof anymore.

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