Last August I wrote about what it felt like to send my son off to college. An important and bittersweet time, I wrote about all that we had done to prepare to send him off to college, a five-hour drive from home, and how our life would change after he was gone. Hard to believe, but he’s back! Even harder to believe, we all survived!
The first few weeks were tough and for those of you who have not experienced any real separation from your kids, I will tell you that it takes some getting used to. It's especially tough if you like your kid. I was teary on the trip to Los Angeles and was not thrilled with the condition of the dorm suite he moved into along with five other young men.
I was excited for Nick and his new beginnings but I was terribly sad in my heart as I sprayed down the dorm suite with Formula 409.
But Nick didn’t seem to mind that the dorm room had been well used by previous students. And although he was a little sad about saying goodbye, his excitement about becoming a Bruin was palpable. He jumped right in, got organized, made new friends, joined a number of organizations and started his classes.
This is precisely what my husband and I focused on, what an incredible experience he was having.
In his first year at college, he became a Bruin at heart and went to all the home football games at the Rose Bowl cheering from “The Den” (the end-zone student section) with gusto, a rather lukewarm football team that managed to win all their home games. He texted pictures of cheering students decked out in blue-and-gold T-shirts and face paint.
He participated in several volunteer events in the greater Los Angeles area. His favorite was speaking about what it is like to be a freshman engineering student at “You are Going to College,” an annual event hosted by UCLA for thousands of students from the Los Angeles Unified School District.
He pulled together a team and participated in a Rube Goldberg event. An event only engineers can appreciate. They spent hours planning and putting together a solution to a particular mechanical problem and ended up placing second, winning T-shirts and $100.
During his freshman year he enjoyed excellent academic achievements, which were countered by the challenge of having a few less-than-perfect grades and some serious competition in his classes.
We made a conscious effort to not call or text, especially at first, feeling it was important that he initiate the communication. We wanted him to be a little homesick!
We slowly made the adjustment to a quieter house. Wow, was it quiet! During the year we had phone calls from Nick including a call asking for permission to take a solo trip to Boston to visit a couple of Los Gatos High School friends. He went and we worried. We also got a hilarious and breathless call in the middle of a 26-hour dance marathon fundraiser.
We got several lengthy calls about the merits of joining a fraternity and he worked hard to convince us on this one. After all, universally parents focus on one thing when thinking about membership in a fraternity and that one thing is partying. He joined Theta Chi and we continue to talk with him about the consequences of underage drinking. Please make smart choices, I often remind him.
We even had an unexpected doorbell ring and wake us from a deep sleep late one night when our two Southern California kids decided to make a surprise road trip home to celebrate Easter with us.
In addition to adjusting to a quieter house, one of the biggest challenges my husband and I faced was deciding when to stop talking and let our son make his own decisions.
As a parent, I find this to be one of the most challenging things we have faced with kids at this age. Even though we felt we prepared our son for college life, it is easy to continue to strongly advise and even dictate.
After many years of insisting that your child abide by your decisions pertaining to all things big and small, what to eat, what to wear, when to come home, what activities to focus on, where to apply to college, it is hard to let go.
But as the UCLA Bruin parent newsletter reminded us last month: “Now is the time to celebrate and be proud of your child’s independence!” We continue to focus on this and the progress we have all made this year.
Through it all, I am happy to report that we have all remained close. I am also happy to report that although my son’s freshman year was full of new experiences and challenges for all of us, we survived.
Those wings, those values we instilled are there and they are spread wide and although they occasionally catch a downdraft, to the largest extent, he has soared. I am especially happy because that young man and his big shoes and his big voice are filling up the house at least for the summer and life goes on. Now, what’s for dinner?