On Leaving for College

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August 1994

Last week, I went out for dessert with six of former students who are about to leave for college. Over cheesecake and ice cream sundaes, we talked about this moment in life, straddling childhood and adulthood, those weeks before you leave home for the first time, those weeks you say goodbye to old friends, wondering if you will ever see them again (hoping you do, but you’re just not quite sure what’s about to happen because everything feels like it’s about to change forever).

It’s an amazing time in a young person’s life: leaving for college. Independence. Discovery. Experimentation. Everything — from this moment forward — will feel different.

I remember the weeks before I left for the University of Iowa, how scared I was, how excited, how I wasn’t sure what would happen or how I would feel, but I sensed a change coming on, even though I didn’t understand the extent of it yet.

I wrote in my journal at the time:

Tonight, I sit at my desk and wonder what will happen to me and my friends in the next year. Life is really amazing. I just don’t want goodbye to mean goodbye with a lot of people. I guess only time will tel. I’m going to miss a lot of people, probably more than I realize now. And I’m sure that one rainy night in Iowa, I’ll remember something from my past and it will hit me — hard — and I will cry and yearn for a piece of my past. We will all grow and change … I just hope we still cling to the memories and stay friends for a long time to come.

I still keep in touch with most of these friends; in fact, this weekend I had a girls’ weekend with my four best friends from high school — and we graduated almost 20 years ago.

But, I’ve lost touched with others. Some other friends have pushed me away, for unknown reasons. I only see my best friends a few times a year, because we live in different cities and it’s so difficult to schedule the time with families and kids and careers and everyday life. This saddens me, but I’m happy to still have these close friends in my life. I’m lucky, but you truly have to work at it, or the friendships will fade. It’s too easy for them to.

When my mother (and best friend Becky) pulled away in our family Suburban from the curb in front of Daum Residence Hall where I would live during my freshman year, I waved and walked inside, feeling alive and ready to start my new life.

My mom, on the other hand, cried the entire four-hour drive back to Milwaukee. As a mother now I completely understand those tears — your baby is leaving you, and you have to let her go. She must have known that even though I would come home again, things would be different.

She wrote me this letter before she left Iowa City:

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The note goes on:

This experience which I am certain you can handle will be as rewarding as so many of your past experiences have been and I will benefit from this experience as well. I’m allowing myself plenty of time to adjust and I hope you’ll do the same! So far the “chapters” of your life have been well worth reading — can’t wait for your new “chapter” … make it interesting

stay happy

stay healthy

stay close to the heart

love Mom

I cry reading her words now; I understand a mother’s love.

The moment her car pulled away from the curb, life became mine instead of hers. I was in complete control of it — for better or worse.

Life is yours now. Make it interesting.

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