I didn’t cry.
In fact, I was stunned by my lack of emotional display.
No tears. No sobbing. I had expected all of it. I thought for sure I’d be inconsolable when we finally turned away from our firstborn and left him at college.
I thought I’d have the stereotypical hard time letting go. I thought it would feel so strange to say goodbye. But instead, what I felt was overwhelming excitement, love and — to be honest — relief.
To put it simply, the journey to this day was not easy.
Our son, Zack, is a thoughtful, generous, giving soul. He loves the act of learning. He’ll read a world atlas for fun or study the history of Lichtenstein online. His sense of humor is unique and engaging. He can literally name every country, capital and flag on earth. (No surprise he’s thinking of majoring in geography).
But Zack did not cruise through school. He struggled with social situations and executive functioning. I’ve written before about the years I spent advocating for him to get the services and support he needed. There were bullies. There were incidents. There were crises.
So when we walked onto Clark University’s campus the other day and saw flags from every nation lining the path to the quad, it almost felt like a sign to me. Zack was beaming. This was his place. These are his people.
I think sometimes the hardest part of being a parent is that your expectations of who your kids will be doesn’t always match who they actually are. I’ve had to work at letting go of some idealistic image I had of the “perfect kid” and recognize my son for the amazing, if not quirky, young man he is.
We attended an early orientation day with sessions for the students and the parents. A few hours in, Zack was already asking when we were leaving. I smiled and thought how absolutely age-appropriate that was.
Yes, I helped organize his room. Yes, I worried if he’d packed all the right clothes. If he’d really brush his teeth.
But I also sat back and observed as Zack introduced himself to strangers, organized his schedule and eagerly prepared for classes in topics that fascinate him. He’s advocating for himself now, and I think he has the tools and support he needs to succeed.
At one point, Zack organized a group of eight students and they gathered around a big table in the dining hall to eat lunch.
My husband and I looked over from our table for two and reality hit us.
My husband, Chris, and I looked over from our table for two and reality hit us. THIS — this is what parenting was all about. When you have a baby, you’re not thinking about the day that baby goes to college. You aren’t thinking about the end goal when they’re struggling in third grade trying to make friends or turn in homework. But the whole goal of raising a child is to create an independent young adult who no longer needs you.
“This is what we wanted all along,” I whispered to Chris.
I won’t pretend I’m not nervous. But I also feel so overwhelmingly hopeful right now.
At the end of a final presentation, the dean of students told all of the parents to turn to our students, give them one last hug and say goodbye.
I felt a lump form in my throat. “Zack I’m so proud of you. I love you,” I said. He gave me a long bear hug.
And I did not cry.