When A Child Goes Off To College

The author and son Dane

Saying goodbye is never easy. It can be one of the toughest things to do when your child is taking the next step in his life.

No one teaches us how to let go. There’s no manual or parent guide on how to calmly and quietly back away. Separation anxiety, that’s what our children experienced on their first day of school. So why are roles reversed when our children head off to college?

It’s a question thousands of parents have asked or are quietly dealing with this fall. I know I’m not alone, but why do I feel so alone?

I couldn’t be farther removed from the ocean this week as I sit on the campus at the University of Minnesota. I let my thoughts drift to Kailua Beach, where I’ve enjoyed so many memories with my children, including my oldest son, Dane. Maybe it’s the taste of my tears streaming down my face or maybe it’s because I always visualize the ocean when I’m sad.

But I shouldn’t be sad. College is an exciting time for our children. It’s one of those moments we dream about when they first come into this world.

There’s birth, then their first step, first word and first day of school. And then there is college.

Dane has made us very proud over the years. A National Honor Society student, an editor for his school’s newspaper, a talented two-sport athlete and the most respectful son a dad could ask for. And now he’s following in my footsteps, enrolled in the journalism department at Minnesota. How cool is that?

We shared several quality days together before he checked into his dormitory. We spent hours chatting and laughing during the 400-mile, seven-hour drive from Chicago to Minneapolis. Dane eventually dozed off, and I found myself staring at his gentle face, reminiscing all the wonderful times we shared. The family trips to Disneyland, Orlando, San Francisco, Kauai and Waikoloa. And especially the one-on-one moments engaged in deep, meaningful conversations. It was enough to release the tears.

The night before he checked in we spent every moment we could soaking up each other’s company and making more memories. We walked the entire campus and got excited about the football, basketball and hockey games he would attend. We talked about the winter season and how he planned on staying warm.

My boy is now a young man, and I need to let go. College administrators can spot parents like me a mile away. You know the ones who take their children to school but just don’t know when or how to say goodbye. It is one reason many schools have implemented programs that force quick farewells for incoming freshmen – not for the students, mind you, but for the parents. University of Minnesota is one of those schools.

We’re referred to as “Velcro parents” or, as I prefer, “opihi parents.” But even opihi release their hold. The clinging slowly eases. The resistance eventually stops. It’s an emotional moment when we finally say so long … for now.

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