This time last year I was in the "end of senior year" frenzy. It was the "last" time to do lots of things, the first time for prom and of course, graduation. I remember reading/seeing lots of articles on how to survive sending your child off to college. Some were funny, some eloquent and many thought provoking.
Since it's that time of year again I’ve noticed the sharing of many of these articles again. Many of my friends, who are in the midst of the senior year send off festivities for their own children, are starting to feel emotional as they think about taking their children to college for the first time. As much as I’ve read about college send off (and yes, it can gut wrenching), I’ve seen far less written about “picking up”. And, trust me, no one is more surprised than me that I've found that part to be emotional too.
College drop off seemed to be one part expectation of the new beginnings for my daughter mixed with too many more parts of anxiousness about what those new beginnings meant. Anticipating drop off I kept thinking about the morning our whole family loaded up our Suburban and took her, our firstborn off to kindergarten. She had new shoes and a cute red dress. She had picked out her own backpack and lunchbox … she was set and ready to go. As we were making our way towards the school I turned around in the car to give her one last instruction. I was going to say, “Don’t forget to sit at the front of the bus on the way home”, but my throat caught and I knew I couldn’t get the words out without crying.
So I let it go and hoped and silently prayed she would remember all the things we had talked about in the first five years of her life.
I had to trust that she knew what to do.
Before our family got out of the car that day we said a prayer for her. We then walked her in and she began her new school kindergarten adventure. Turns out that was the LONGEST day I could ever remember. I wondered what she was doing, who she was playing with, if she liked it, and if the other kids liked her. A little after three on that hot August day, a smiling little girl got off the school bus beaming with pride, independence and confidence. The day had been a huge success.
Come to think of it, taking her to college began much like taking her to kindergarten. Our family loaded up the Suburban with everything she needed to start her new life in college. She had a new bedspread and towels and a few new outfits for “game days”. As we set up her room there was so much I wanted to say … “do you know how often to wash your sheets, don’t walk at night alone, eat breakfast” … and on and on I could have gone. But just like that day in kindergarten, I had a catch in my throat. So I hoped and I silently prayed that she would remember all the things we had talked about the first eighteen years of her life.
I had to trust she knew what to do.
Moving in was relatively easy. We got her room set up, had lunch and needed to make one last, quick trip to Target to pick up a desk lamp for her dorm room. We found the lamp she needed and walked towards the cashier to pay. You should have seen me on the way to the checkout. It’s funny looking back … I was picking up anything and everything and asking, … “Do you think you need this? Do you want one of these? Do you want snacks for your room?”. And with each “no” she said her tone became a little firmer. She clearly wanted the lamp and wanted to leave. Her dad said something to me like … “Nerves are kicking in … its time for us to go”.
So we drove back up to her dorm and I realized we were just dropping her off. In my head I was screaming “NO! No … we can’t just pull up in front of the dorm like a carpool and drop her off. There’s supposed to be a “moment”, right?” But we pulled up in front of the dorm and her dad got out of the car. He went around and opened her door and prayed a prayer over her. It was beautiful really.
He said “Amen” and I thought that was it. Until (thankfully!) I remembered I had left my phone cord in her dorm room. I’ve never been so glad for my forgetfulness as that very moment because it meant I got to walk back in the dorm with her for one last goodbye. The goodbye “moment” I was wanting.
I got my phone cord and took one last look around at my baby’s new room. I turned to go and her roommate’s mom, who was dropping off her third (and youngest) daughter, asked me if I was ok. Up until that exact moment I had been fine. Anxious, to be sure, but ok. Right then the tears began to well up and they spilled over. This was goodbye. Caroline and I walked to the stairway and hugged one last time and she turned and went off to begin her new college adventure. I walked down the stairs feeling a bit smug perhaps that I had nailed the college drop off. A catch in the throat but not too many tears. Then I saw some of her high school friends in the lobby and I cried real, sloppy tears. (The funny thing is one of the girls called her mom later and said “Why didn’t you cry like her mom did?” HA!)
The car ride home was fine. Our second daughter didn’t say much. Our third daughter was excited to be moving up from the back row of the Suburban to the second row and her 11 year old brother was THRILLED to have the whole back row to himself. We got back to Houston and drove straight to a Chinese restaurant we all enjoy and for the first time said “table for five”.
The new normal in our house took some getting used to, for sure. I didn’t like walking by her empty room and not seeing a “lived in” look. When I went to the grocery store I reached for things only to realize that she was the only one who liked it and therefore I didn’t need to buy it anymore. It was those kinds of things that caught me off guard. The first few days just felt weird. No other way to describe it.
But the days she was gone turned into weeks and then into months. Now a full college year has gone by and we are making plans to go pick up her stuff. She won’t be coming home until mid July as she is heading straight from school to the camp where she will be working this summer. We are all thrilled about this summer adventure for her.
But this is what I’ve learned after year one. This is what I never read in any of the "how to survive" articles. I’ve learned it was just like kindergarten. I had to trust it was going to be ok. And the girl whose stuff we are picking up is more confident, more independent and more radiant than the one we dropped off.
Going to the University of Texas was not where I envisioned her going to college. Up until spring break of her senior year I thought she would go to go to the college where my husband and I attended. Once she made her decision however … and every moment since then, it has felt right. UT has far exceeded my expectations. I knew it was a prestigious university but what I didn’t realize was how kind the students, the dorm directors and administration would be to us. I didn’t know there would be a group of “Texas parents” that would answer any/every question. What I didn’t realize was how much I would enjoy watching my daughter embrace college life.
As fun as going up for a football or basketball game has been, the best day I spent on campus since drop off was one day in March when I drove up for my daughters birthday. She had to “squeeze in” a quick lunch with me because she had class and dinner with friends and was meeting some other friends for cake on the state capital steps. It was that day that I saw how happy she was at UT. She told me all about her spring break trip with Young Life to Florida the previous week and how she had seen friends get baptized in the ocean while dolphins jumped in the background. I drove home that day so filled up with how good God has been to us, to her. How faithful He has been in taking our trembling hands and hearts and saying “trust me”.
I cannot begin to count the times I truly felt the Lord was whispering to me “I’ve got your girl”. It's a lot, at every turn. There were a few times I even questioned Him on it because I thought He was letting me/her down. But He wasn’t.
Because her college experience was going to be different than mine, I had a fear of the unknown. Looking back, that unknown has been a wonderful new adventure for us. We have learned to love new things, a new place … yes, even a new school.
So last week, while standing in line waiting on my order at the deli counter, I opened an email from the Scottish Rite dorm with “move out instructions” in the subject line. I honestly thought I was going to burst into tears. These were different kind of tears though. Tears of pride that she finished strong, tears of sadness that her first year in a dorm I grew to LOVE was over, tears of thankfulness at God’s protection and provision for her, tears of joy for her new opportunities, experiences and friendships she has found … and tears of relief that all of those times God whispered to me that “he had my girl” and to trust Him … He meant it.
He has my girl. He has me. And a year I thought was going to be scary and unknown has become a memory of something loved and cherished. So here’s one more thing I think those articles forgot to mention … Pick up is amazing.