The kids go off to college, and the sun burns out

The kids are arriving for their first year at St. Cloud State University, the St. Cloud Times reports today.

In Mankato, the same scene is repeated at Minnesota State University, the Mankato Free Press says.

Denise Furman, the mother of an incoming student, says she’s already gotten “the talk” from her daughter, the one that includes a warning not to expect a phone call from her every day.

This is the way things have to be. We know this and we’ve known this since the day we dropped the kids off at elementary school and for the first time, they didn’t turn around to wave goodbye.

Not long thereafter, they asked us to drop them off a block or two from the school.

We know this is the way it has to be.

We were the sun, and they were the planets, Beverly Beckham wrote in a 2006 op-ed in the Boston Globe that has been so popular, that the Globe reprints it every year.

Today is that day.

My friend Beth’s twin girls left for Roger Williams yesterday. They are her fourth and fifth children. She’s been down this road three times before. You’d think it would get easier.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without them,” she has said every day for months.

And I have said nothing, because, really, what is there to say?

A chapter ends. Another chapter begins. One door closes and another door opens. The best thing a parent can give their child is wings.

I read all these things when my children left home and thought then what I think now: What do these words mean?

Eighteen years isn’t a chapter in anyone’s life. It’s a whole book, and that book is ending and what comes next is connected to, but different from, everything that has gone before.

Before was an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager. Before was feeding and changing and teaching and comforting and guiding and disciplining, everything hands-on. Now?

Now the kids are young adults and on their own and the parents are on the periphery, and it’s not just a chapter change. It’s a sea change.

As for a door closing? Would that you could close a door and forget for even a minute your children and your love for them and your fear for them, too. And would that they occupied just a single room in your head.

But they’re in every room in your head and in your heart.

As for the wings analogy? It’s sweet. But children are not birds. Parents don’t let them go and build another nest and have all new offspring next year.

Saying goodbye to your children and their childhood is much harder than all the pithy sayings make it seem. Because that’s what going to college is. It’s goodbye.

It’s not a death, nor a tragedy, she acknowledged. But it’s not nothing either.

Good luck in college, kids. Call your folks once in awhile.

  • PaulJ

    If the kid has to give the parent “the talk” you might wonder who is supporting who.

    • Oh, I don’t think so. There’s that beautiful moment — and I don’t know how old your kids are — when your kids take on the role of comfort provider. It increases as they (and we) age and it has to start somewhere. I think it started there. It’s all quite beautiful and quite bittersweet and shouldn’t be polluted by the Internet’s insatiable thirst to judge.

      We don’t have much time with our children as sun/planets. We don’t believe the oldsters who tell us when our kids who are in strollers, “enjoy it, the time moves fast” because times moves slow at that age.

      But it doesn’t. It moves fast. We get one shot at it and then the next thing you know, it’s over.

      It’s very much a grieving process and like any grieving process, it requires comfort more than judgement.

      It’s real.

      • Mike

        I also agree it is an important step in becoming an adult. Being compassionate and supportive, not just to friends and strangers, but also your family members and not taking their feelings for granted is essential to becoming an asset in this world.

      • Al

        Spot on. Thanks, Bob.

      • Jay T. Berken

        “We don’t believe the oldsters who tell us when our kids who are in strollers, “enjoy it, the time moves fast” because times moves slow at that age.”

        My child is 3, and I have a buddy with a 22 year old graduating from college next year…it hits me in the face every time I see my buddy that time moves fast.

      • PaulJ

        There’s also a plague in the country of parents who trained their (now damaged) children that mommy and daddy are entitled to have their emotion needs met by them. But I suppose the internet is all about entitlement so what was once called maturity is now deemed severity.

        • Again, I’m not sure how old your kids are or whether you’re even a parent.

          Nobody has said anything about anyone being entitled to have their emotional needs met.

          That said, one of the odd byproducts of family and a family’s love, is understanding, caring abot, and then meeting each other’s emotional needs.

          When it comes to being a family, that’s a feature, not a bug.

          • PaulJ

            I use “might wonder” to raise a red flag, not to shame; and don’t think all red flags lead to black. Just say’n that there’s an under recognized problem in this area.

          • I do keep hearing that there’s a problem in this area. I usually here it from parents who know someone who know someone . And I hear the anecdotes.

            I also read the constant drumbeat of what’s wrong with Millennials and much simply doesn’t add up for me and I question the generalizations and the validity of anecdotes as science.

            And it’s not really the point of the observation in the post, so…

      • Suzanne

        Agreed. It’s truth.

      • >>We don’t believe the oldsters who tell us when our kids who are in strollers, “enjoy it, the time moves fast” because times moves slow at that age.<<

        I have started being that "oldster"…

        As an aside I think this is sage advice for those rushing around taking things for granted:

  • DavidG

    Wait, I thought people were saying the problem with kids these days it that they were in daily contact (usually via texting) with their parents when they went off to college.

  • Al

    On move-in day for first-years, my college has a row of greeters each year that cheer the families driving in, and hand out packets of Kleenex to the parents driving back out without their kids.

    As a college freshman, I thought it was a bit melodramatic.

    As a parent… I think I’m just starting to comprehend what’s ahead. Barely.

    This is so well-said: “Eighteen years isn’t a chapter in anyone’s life. It’s a whole book, and that book is ending and what comes next is connected to, but different from, everything that has gone before.”

    • I think the most important words in her piece were these:

      “Our fear for them.”

  • kevins

    I’m getting old. When I arrived at college (a good Big-10 school), I had a suitcase and briefcase and what I was wearing. You could phone home from the pay phone in the hallway if you had dimes. Letters home were a few cents postage, and Thanksgiving was the first trip back home Fall quarter. For my kids, we rented a U-Haul trailer, loaded a futon, fridge, compy and big-screen TV into the room, and paid to keep them on our cell phone contract. Oh well.
    Neither my wife nor I, nor the kids, had a lot of angst about the separations however…it was time to go.

    • It’s good to be a guy.

      • Jack

        Actually our son is down to the last two years of school and he is starting to feel anxious that he is down to only one more summer break. The reality that a professional career is around the corner frightens him – I spent last night talking with him about that.

        We’ve been hands off in college parenting. I let him know it’s a normal anxiety. We’ve all been through it.

        Best gift we can give our adult kids is to let them learn for themselves. Like I told him junior year of high school, if he hadn’t figured out how to study or budget time (and money), then it would be a problem in college.

        Just for the record, I waited for him to reach out to me after I dropped him off freshman year. I knew he was just fine when he kept blowing through the data plan. 🙂

  • John O.

    It’s move-in week. Total gridlock at Ikea.

    • Kassie

      And stay away from the Target in the Quarry. I don’t know if they still do, but they used to run shuttle buses from the dorms to that Target. It was a nightmare for someone (me) trying to just run in and buy some tampons.

      • KariBemidji

        Stay away from all Targets in college towns this weekend. A whole of lot of moping dads to maneuver around.

      • DavidG

        Shoot, I need some shampoo and toilet paper, and that’s the one on my way home from work.

        • Kassie

          Walgreens is your best bet I think. Or a grocery store. Stay away from Target.

  • Sue

    Some thirty years ago, I was dropped off at college and then left on my own. If I called my parents from college that would have only been only for emergencies! Do you know how much collect calls cost?

    I spent a semester studying in Mexico and I did not call them once. I did send letters. When I arrived back into the town, they were not aware when I would be coming home and had to use a pay phone when I arrived at the airport to see if they could give me a ride. They were not at home (remember no cell phones or text messaging). I was finally able to track down a friend to come pick me up at the airport.

    No my parents were not neglectful and they were as supportive and they could have been at that time. They were just not involved in micro-managing my life and determining where I was and where I was going at all times.

    Looking back I am assuming that they cared about me and loved me. I don’t have any hard feelings about it either. At the time I was probably just happy to be out on my own and making my own decisions.

    I have just sent my second child off to college. She is 15 miles away. My first child went a bit further – Duluth. Yes the realization that they have grown up is not lost on me however the realization that they are becoming their own individual adults and coming into their own is also pretty cool.

    • Yes, again, this is the way we know it has to be.

      Contrary to the University of Internet Comments, however, most parents know this and most parents accept this. This is hard. This is part of being a parent and this is what was expressed so beautifully in the Boston Globe piece.

      Nobody has argued for the planets to stay planets, revolving around the sun. In fact, the sun goes out and the planets become their own “solar system.”

      Nobody is saying otherwise.

    • rallysocks

      There have been micro-managing parents, more hands-offish parents, neglectful parents and emotionally needy parents since pretty much forever. The family has changed throughout history, though.

      With more and more families needing to have both parents (and even the kids) working multiple part-time jobs or full-time jobs with supplemental part-time gigs just to get by, families don’t always have the luxury of spending a lot of time together. When it’s time for them to go off to college or just move out and find a job, it’s easier nowadays (oh, that makes me feel curmudgeonly!) to feel as though you haven’t had enough time with them to teach them what they need to know!

      But a few generations from now, it will all be different. Hopefully the national obsession of defining ourselves by how hard we work outside of the home (and then inside it when our shifts are over) will have subsided and families will have the option of being families.

      At least that’s how I see it.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    When I arrived as a college freshman I was a long way from home. (I’m still that long way from home.) My parents and I agreed that I would call (collect) once a week to check in and let them know what was going on. I don’t remember how we settled on 7 PM (CT) on Sundays. But that tradition remains. A few years ago we moved to Skype, so at least we can see each other’s faces. Around that time we added Wednesday night as a second call. Mom’s getting older and dad past away a few years ago, but we keep in touch even if the conversation is that not much is going on.

    • rallysocks

      That is just lovely…kudos to you for keeping the tradition going.