Dropping Off the Firstborn at College

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People have been very kind this week, asking me how I am doing, whether we have heard from Emily, how the drop off went.  Honestly, it is still a bit of a blur, and I hope that when the focus clears, we will have a little time under our belts, and things won’t seem so strange.

If you have been following our story this year, you know Emily is our firstborn.  Dropping her off at college last Friday was sort of like leaving a limb behind.  Emily has been an integral part of daily life for the last 18 ½ years, and enjoys a leading role in our family’s cast.  Although she has been away before, for exchange programs and camps, we all know it is different this time, and that our family life will never be the same.

Drop off has become a weekend-long event at most schools, including Emily’s.  There are orientation sessions for the kids, and unlike when my parents took me to college, there are now parent sessions, as well.  At parent orientation (I harumphed to myself, “What do we need to be oriented to?  We’re not going to school.”), we were welcomed, congratulated for raising such wonderful children, and instructed to make speedy, and complete, departures.  (“Aha!” I said to myself.  “This is why we get a session!”)  It seems the last decade or so of parents have back-slid on the “goodbye” skill, and our generation needs to get the parent group back on track.

It’s a challenge, really, in this new age of social media.  Our kids have come through their most formative years texting, IM’ing, posting their “status” several times a day, and living with a cell phone literally in their hands.  The separation that is such a critical part of their new independence from us, and the process of growing up, is a condition that is foreign, unnatural, and difficult for them to achieve.

Emily is no exception.  She has texted her brothers to see how their first days of school went.  She has Snap-Chatted me with pictures of a pretty lawn on campus, and the new planner she bought at the bookstore.  She called to see how we were doing.  This is something she would not have done if she were still living at home, and I take it as a sign that she understands things are changing, too.

So, while our “goodbye” was difficult, and full of the emotions we all could predict – sadness (mine), enthusiasm (hers), nostalgia, nervousness, and a heavy sense of time – it did not seem so final.  I am struggling with how we should respond to the electronic connectedness.  Should we try hard NOT to contact her?  Should we not worry about it, and just send a quick message whenever we feel like it?  What will be best for her?

At the end of the day, I know we’ll muddle through.  We will give her space to grow, and she will let us know when she needs a “touch.”  In some respects, it doesn’t really matter.  Whether we are more or less connected to our college-aged daughter than we were to our own parents during this time, I know that something special, a change, happened last week when we left Emily on that wooded path, a few minutes from her dorm, with other freshmen making their ways to and from…  So, although we will see her again soon, and probably hear from her even sooner, we will not interfere with the coming of age that occurs with the drop off.  We know that, texting or not, things are forever changed, and we will be waiting to see who our girl becomes on her own.


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  1. With any luck, this young lady will find a huge selection of new friends among her classmates, her dorm neighbors, and her fellow students. She is on the road to living her own life, as we all did so many years ago. No longer do we need to run down the hall to the one pay phone shared by the forty residents on the dorm floor; they all have cell phones – smart phones even, with web presence. Stuff we never dreamed of!
    But the things that count – character, personality, and willingness to do your best – these do not depend on the presence or absence of contact with home. I spent Freshman year, as you likely did, with some classmates who went home to dinner with Ma & Pa every night, while others of us ate in the dining hall. We all grew up. The real test comes in four years, when she either (a) finds an apartment in the city where she found employment, or (b) moves back in with you while she finds a job.
    Good luck!

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