Saturday, August 13, 2011

Time to Let Him Go

Being the mother of a soon-departing college freshman is not a new feeling - in fact, this is departure number three; the first two have already successfully completed that four-year experience in one piece. They've even decided to take up residence close to home and family, and we enjoy a close relationship where I can watch proudly as they navigate the adult world. It's just that this is the last to go. The landscape for my baby is about to change dramatically, and my own landscape will soon reflect his absence in a quieter, less chaotic home life, but also strangely empty of all that teen energy, angst and exuberance.

I pride myself on not being a helicopter mom: one of those parents buzzing overhead to monitor the life of her child, diving in at any sign of difficulty. But I like to think I am also supportive, available and reasonably helpful. This child's leaving is significantly different from the previous two in yet another way, however: he doesn't like to open up to us. His relative silence means I worry that I won't have any sense of the daily joys and struggles so far away, that he will not want me to get to know his friends, that he won't call, text or Skype regularly, so I won't be able to hear in his voice what's going right, or what's going wrong. "You're so annoying, Mom. I'm fine" is a regular refrain when I push him to share.

This newly emerging young man has some added challenges - not uncommon to many teens. Learning difficulties make school difficult. ADHD means it's hard for him to maintain focus. The fact that he finds it hard to find the words to explain what's going on in his brain leave him reticent to discuss this fact with teachers - particularly when they're strangers in a new setting. I feel for him. I wish I could talk to his professors myself. But I won't. Because he is also proud. And I am not a helicopter mom. So that task is now up to him.

My daughter consoles me that I have done all I can to help her little brother reach this point successfully, and that now it's up to him. I know that, developmentally, she is right, but Number 3 doesn't necessarily follow the clock. It's vexing.

It is not that he's never been away from home before. For the past six summers, he's gone to sleep-away camp in Maine for a two-month stretch. A natural athlete, and patient coach and instructor of younger children, he thrives at camp. But after two months, in an environment I know intimately, under the care of adults I've known since my own teen years, he comes home.

Still, the day of his departure for High Point University is drawing undeniably closer - only a week from today and we will be moving him into his dorm room. In what seems like a "kiss-and-run" policy, the university schedules move-in day on Saturday, a Convocation Sunday morning, and then it's off to the races.

Why does a mother worry about this so much? Is it because the definition of her role is about to change so radically? Is it the thought that our relationship is about to change forever? If this were a multiple choice test, I'd have to leave room not just for a choice of, d). all of the above, but one more option: e). all of the above and more.

I know enough about the brain to understand that this is my limbic system overruling my better judgment. The drive to protect, to nurture, to keep our offspring safe is a primal drive. My rational brain says, he'll be home in just over a month (his college has an extended fall break); he is just a phone call away; Southwest flies to a town close-by in less than an hour. All of these facts sound reassuring, but don't erase the feeling of looming loss and powerlessness.

It is, according to the calendar, time to let him go. He will experience all the newness of college life and adjust easily. Or he will struggle with the freedom, choices and changes of boundaries. He will be away from daily interaction with family and the comforts of home. In either case, I will continue to poke, call, text and be that "annoying Mom" who wants to stay involved in her son's life, even far away.

I am proud of my young man. He's accomplished so much in 17 years. I am thrilled for him that he is strong, autonomous, smart. I know he has the strength to take on life's challenges and I pray that the values we've worked to instill stand up under the pressure of adjustment to this new life, new friends, more strenuous academic expectations.

In a week, we cast our baby out of the nest. I will watch with pride and tears as he spreads his wings to fly. It is all a mother can do. Right?