An Empty Nest Dog DilemmaMarlene Kern Fischer
Your teen finally decided on the 6-piece twin XL coordinated bedding set in Blue Ombré and is outfitted with enough mini string lights to illuminate the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. You’ve purchased so many packs of Command adhesive strips you may be credited with the company’s exceptional earnings growth this quarter.
One by one, all the to-do list items are getting checked off. It seems the only thing left to do is attend the summer send-off.
Every summer, colleges and universities across the country hold summer send-off receptions for incoming freshmen and their families. These gatherings are often hosted by parents of current students or local alumni, and may be attended by Residence Life or Parent/Family Program staff from the school. If you and your student receive an invitation, be sure to attend!
As an alumnae admissions representative for my alma mater, I’ve attended a half dozen summer send-offs so can speak to the importance of these events with respect to information gathering and community building.
Over time, however, I’ve come to understand there’s also an emotional component to these gatherings. The summer send-off is, after all, the beginning of goodbye.
When I went to my first summer send-off, my son and daughter weren’t yet in high school, and I couldn’t fathom that saying goodbye would become a part of my relationship with them. I thought I still had so much time.
Well, last summer at my sixth summer send-off, it hit home. My own son would be leaving for his freshman year of college in just a month or so.
While the conversation among the parents turned to the purchase of blue IKEA bags for move-in and extra-long extension cords, it was clear that what we were really saying was that these days had passed in an instant. Eighteen years was the briefest of moments, and now here we were, in the bittersweet process of letting go.
So when you and your child attend the summer send-off, be sure to ask all the burning questions: Are the washers and dryers coin operated? (Many are not.) Should my child bring a printer? (Schools often provide printers in a dorm common area.) Will an ironing board come in handy? (Did they really ever use one at home?)
But then be prepared for the fact that making new friends and collecting helpful tips won’t fully quell the swirling mix of emotions you’re experiencing.
In a couple of weeks I’ll attend my seventh summer send-off on behalf of my alma mater. My son will soon return to campus for his sophomore year. And I’d like to believe I’ve become a seasoned traveler in this college-bound journey.
Your house will become far too quiet. Honor your feelings and know it’s okay to immerse yourself in that sadness for a bit. When we returned home after dropping my son off at college that first year, I went into his empty bedroom and cried on his bed. After putting on a brave face during move-in, I needed to let myself release and experience that grief. And these moments may return unexpectedly. Shortly after my son left I experienced a sudden wave of sadness standing in the frozen aisle of the supermarket, when I realized I didn’t need to buy the pizzarogies he loves so much. Know that these feelings pass, and it does get easier.
Maybe that means paying more attention to a younger sibling still at home. They’re also missing the brother or sister who’s moved away. Invest more time in your relationships with friends, family, a spouse or significant other. Dive into exercise, a hobby, a work or volunteer project. I rediscovered my love for writing, and it has afforded me enormous satisfaction.
Skype and FaceTime are a great way to communicate. I love being able to see my son’s face — it makes it feel like he’s not so far away. Texting is also nice, although don’t expect your student to return your texts right away. And at the start of his freshman year my son and I began a Snapchat “streak.” (Ask your teen if you don’t know what this is!) Kids love the challenge of keeping a streak going, and my son and I were able to maintain one that lasted months.
Maybe you can make it to campus for Family Weekend, or to attend a performance or sports event. Getting a visit on the calendar gives you both something to look forward to. It was also a relief to visit my son on Family Weekend in the early fall and see how much he had matured and that he was thriving in his new environment. It truly eased a lot of worry.
Our students still seek the comfort of home and family. With the long fall weekend, Thanksgiving, winter break, spring break and finally summer, you may be surprised at how often they end up back home during the school year.
You'll learn how adept your student is at navigating their new circumstances. They’ll make you feel more proud than you’ve ever felt before. This is, after all, how it was always meant to be. We were never supposed to hold onto them forever. As Cecil Day-Lewis writes in his poem "Walking Away," which he wrote while watching his eldest son head off to school, "Selfhood begins with a walking away/And love is proved in the letting go."