(This image originally appears on the website sweet sugarbelle)

(There’s a reason I haven’t posted in awhile… It would appear that getting one’s oldest child prepped and ready for her first year in college can actually eat up a LOT of one’s time. Time that used to be devoted to one’s blog! Ahhh, the work of mothering never ends no matter the age of our “babies!”)

Well, it’s been just over a week since I hugged my oldest goodbye and watched her walk/run down the hallway of her freshman dorm at USF late for her new student orientation.

Our family of six had driven the 10+ hours to San Francisco to drop her off. And then we turned right around and drove back, never once taking in any of the sights of the city. We didn’t have time. There was work, and summer camps, and life waiting for us back in Portland that we had to return to. Without her.

Now you might think it sounds crazy that we would rent a U-Haul cube and drive the 635 (but who’s counting?) miles to and from northern California in four days. And actually, as I read this, it is kinda crazy… But I never considered doing anything different.

When my oldest brother, Jeff, went away to college my parents packed us into a (much smaller) car and all seven of us went to drop him off at Marquette University. I remember how much it mattered to my then ten-year-old-self to know what a college dorm actually looked like. It made his leaving a little less painful for us all.

But now that it was our turn, I took the advice of my friend, Peggy (a veteran in sending kiddos off to college) on how to handle this new parenting milestone: “If you’ve got anything profound to say to your kid, don’t wait to say it when you’re hugging them goodbye. It’s too much for everyone — especially your kid!”

So, we spent the first night of our journey south in Grants Pass, Oregon. We went out for pizza and once back at our AirBnB, gathered together, sat on the floor in a circle, and I said something like: “Let’s spend some time letting Elisa know how much we love her, how much we’ll miss her and maybe share with her what we hope this next adventure will be like for her. And if you feel like crying, that’s okay. This isn’t a time to hold back. And if I cry — don’t freak out!” (My children can count on one hand the number of times they’ve seen me cry before, so it rattles them a bit if I don’t give them fair warning…)

And for the next half hour or so, each of us spoke directly to Elisa, our wonderful daughter and amazing big sister, to let her know just how much we loved her, how much we would be missing her while she was away, and how excited we were for her to be going to college. There were lots of tears (especially from Elisa) but it ended with lots of laughter too, as we surrounded her in this goofy, full-family group-hug — practically squeezing the life out of her! We woke the next morning to drive another six hours into Oakland, where we spent the night with friends, and local “guardian angels,” Kate and Ann. This would be MY one piece of advice for parents of college-aged kids: “Enlist the support of local adult(s) so your child has someone they can call if they need anything!”

Move-in day was fast and our leaving even faster. But it wasn’t until we were in our fourth hour of driving back on I-5 North and I saw the first “Portland 359 miles” sign, that I lost it. ME – the one who never cries! And for the next hour or so, I wept as I looked out into the darkness rushing by.

Elisa’s been very good to this Momma. She has initiated several text threads, all happening at once… One that involves me, her Dad, and her sixteen-year-old brother — one that’s just me and her Dad — and one that’s just between me and her, the topics slightly different for each audience.

She called after her first class and talked my ear off for 30 minutes. Her excitement over her professors, the new friends she’s making, the coursework she’ll be taking, all palpable as I tried to get a word in edgewise. We’ve had a few Skype sessions, and I can’t tell you how good it is to see her face! Which makes me feel all the more for my own Momma who had to rely on me calling her on the landline every once in awhile. (In this regard, I was a terrible daughter! I’m so sorry, Mom! Forgive me?!)

I feel so happy for her and where she’s landed that even though I long to have her near, I’m not really that sad. At least, not yet! I’ve heard that there’s this slump that happens after the first month or so has gone by. We’ll see…

I found myself consoling Roberto about our girl being gone the other night. And one of the things that bubbled up to the surface for me was this: Our children don’t belong to us. At best, we get to rent them for a little while, but we never own them. They’re not “ours” in that sense.

Instead, we get the distinct honor and privilege of bringing them into this world and raising them to adulthood — but they’re not ours. From the very beginning, they are their own person. They begin to separate from us almost immediately at birth. And our job is to ready them, to ready ourselves, for that separation. With that in mind, I wrote this poem and it’s dedicated to Elisa, who made me a Momma almost 19 years ago. I love her so.

You Don’t Belong To Me

You don’t belong to me
You never have

But that doesn’t mean
You’re not part of me
After all, we were once
A single being

You-and-Me-Me-and-You-You-and-Me

We breathed the same air
Ate the same food
(Though we never seemed to master
The same sleep cycle)

Even as you were still
Inside of me
You were already
Separate from me

Separating from me

Over the years
I’ve tried to
Encourage that separation

To make sure
You’d grow into adulthood
In one piece —
More or less

I tried to make sure
That you didn’t grow up
To be an asshole

I tried to make sure
That when your heart got broken
That you would still be whole

I tried to make sure
You knew that who you are right now
Is more than enough

And all that you are
Still becoming
Is even more than can be imagined

I tried to make sure
That when it was time to let you go
That we’d both be ready

Well…how’d I do?

You don’t belong to me
You never have

But I hope you know just how much
I tried to make sure
That (now and forever)
You would always feel

Like you belonged

(To me)

 

Many of my readers are just beginning their parenting journey, but I’ve heard from some of you that you appreciate hearing about what is yet to come. I hope that sharing some of my own journey through the many milestones of mothering is helpful to you. XO

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