Saturday evening I said goodbye to my son Ben, who officially started his four years at Beloit College.
I am grateful that the send-off was better than the one that Scott Bierman, the president of Beloit College, experienced years ago when he dropped his second daughter off at Kenyon College.
As the drop-off day wore on, Bierman told a gathering of Beloit parents and freshmen, that it had become obvious that he and his wife were no longer needed and were simply in the way. His daughter finally shouted: “Go away you freaks!” There were no tears shed on the ride back,” recalled Bierman, who had clearly recovered from the snub.
The hardest part of saying goodbye to Ben really had little to do with the gangly, six-foot-tall boy who had flown out with me from San Diego. I was stunned at how 18 years had sped by so fast.
It seemed like just yesterday when my husband and I still needed babysitters. It seemed like yesterday that were driving all over Southern California to watch Ben play soccer. It seemed like yesterday that I was hitting yard sales on Saturday mornings to keep Ben supplied with popsicle sticks, tinker toys, Legos, magnets, pipe cleaners and all sorts of other treasures to fuel his imagination. And, aahh, the many days when Ben and I would dive into the dumpster behind our neighborhood bike shop to rescue big cardboard boxes that we loaded into the stationwagon for his latest project.
Saying Goodbye to Your College Freshman
As I reminisce, I know what I have lost, but what have I gained? Or at least what can I expect now that Ben is a college freshman?
In the college’s stone chapel, William Flanagan, the dean of students, talked on Saturday about what lay ahead for the 310 freshman, who had assembled with their parents. I think what he said to those gathered will certainly be applicable to others who are about to embark on this odyssey. Here are a couple of observations that resonated with me:
College will help teenagers, on the cusp of adulthood, stop viewing the world in black and white. College will expose them to new ideas, people, cultures and experiences. They will discover that the world is a much broader place and simple answers are rare. (All I can say to that is, “Amen!” )
Freshmen, on the cusp of adulthood, will have to put emotional distance between themselves and their parents. They have to grow. By Christmas break, parents will see changes.
Beginning today, parents need to prepare themselves for their children moving away emotionally and a sense of humor helps! His comments reminded me of a wisp of cross stitching that my mom made and hung in her home in St. Louis after my parents’ five children had all graduated from colleges: The greatest gift that a mother can give her child are wings.
Before I said goodbye, another Beloit mom and friend from Chicago, took a picture of Ben and me. Ben pretended that he was on the verge of tears. He laughed and then I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.
I told him I was proud of him. And then he wrapped his long arms around me and gave me a squeeze. Before he left, he gazed at me with an inscrutable look. And then he turned around and walked across the lawn and disappeared.