By Jamie Janosz
The last time I was told to focus on the end product rather than my present, all-consuming pain, I was giving birth. Somehow sending my first and only child off to college 18 short years later feels a lot like that. And, no epidural this time either.
This college-sending-stuff is hard, and it isn’t pretty. We’re on the other side now. We survived. And pretty soon I’ll lose the memories of the pain we endured. So, before my brain turns mushy and remembers only the good stuff, I want to share a bit about surviving the transition. Because if I did it, you can too.
At the beginning we were all excited. We went on a beautiful tour of the University of Chicago and found a restaurant that served amazing guacamole with homemade chips. The next year we had fun looking through glossy brochures, laughing about the endless emails that spelled her name “Sabrna” – and going on college tours with their tiny Target-decorated display dorm rooms.
After a few months, the decision became clear. For our girl, all roads pointed to University of Central Florida just an hour and a half away from us. It was perfect. It had her major. It wasn’t too far, but she could live in the dorm. And, bonus, they offered an amazing scholarship. Sold. We felt that God was in this – we could sense His direction. That helped.
And, we weren’t too nervous then because we had the whole summer as a buffer. Glorious days. No set schedule. We binged on Netflix and Haagen Dazs (Dulce de Leche, to be exact) with no bowls, just spoons. And we even enjoyed shopping for her new life. I bought sheets and notepads, extension cords and k-cups. We resisted the Death Star night light. There was just a tinge of dread as the mound on our dining room table grew.
We knew, she knew, that soon she would leave the nest.
I felt prepared. She felt (kind of) prepared, and increasingly anxious.
But when the big day came, it hit us both like a ton of bricks. The night before was rough. We weren’t ready to be done with our “lasts” – last walk on the beach, last dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant, last trip to the grocery store where we nabbed as many free samples as possible. How could this possibly be the last night? We both felt strangled, fearful, anxious, crazy… My Lamaze memories started to feel relevant again.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
I remember praying with her, and hugging her tight. And then we went to bed. It’s amazing that we slept at all. The next morning we were on autopilot, especially me. I woke up early. Ignoring the big knot in my stomach, I focused my mind on fitting the mountain of supplies into the back of our Kia Soul. It was a Tetris-style challenge – and it gave me something to do and think about.
When we arrived, we were all about the unloading. Thank the Lord for those college student volunteers with their giant wheeled plastic bins. What would we have done without them? Only two trips in the sweaty Florida sun, up 7 floors, and we were in her new home-for-now.
This is where my mom-genetic kicked in once again. Just like I went to my mental “happy place” during childbirth, I now chose to focus on what I could do about this very emotional situation. I unpacked her new sheet set. I put the Kylo Ren fleece blanket at the end of her bed. I hung up her clothes. I put away bathroom supplies. I wrestled with those annoying shower curtain rings – little silver beads flying everywhere. And then we were done.
We were tired and triumphant. We were so brave. We tried to celebrate our success over dinner. But dinner was hard. Even though there were delicious lettuce wraps, we weren’t hungry. We were tired. She was anxious. I was weepy, holding back the dam. And then the leaving. Even harder. How do you walk away when you know your kid is trembling inside? How do you just leave? But I did. I put one foot in front of the other. Down the hall. Out to the car.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Thank goodness for my husband. He was a little bit annoyed. “This is a good thing,” he kept insisting, while I blew my nose and glared at him. “She’s got this,” he said. “It will be great.”
Honestly? Just then I wanted to smack him. Never have I felt less understood. I knew he was right, but it was like the waters were rushing over the barricade. I made it to the car, then cried. And cried some more.
I fell into bed that night, tired, sweaty, a big ugly bruise on my leg (not sure where that came from), but a bigger bruise on my heart. I didn’t walk to her bedroom. I couldn’t think about it. I just left a piece of me down the road.
That was the tough stuff, friend. But, you know what?
The next morning I got a sweet encouraging FB message from a junior-high friend who understood my pain and voiced his concern. And then, I got a text from my daughter (yay! she’s still alive, still breathing), and then (be still my heart) a phone call.
My breathing became ever-so-slightly more normal.
We chatted while I drank an enormous mug of coffee. She wasn’t crying. I was crying just a little bit. She told me about meeting her fourth roommate. She said she ventured out to the student dining room and enjoyed a bowl of Cocoa Puffs (my favorite). A new friend had fixed her wonky internet connection.
You don’t know how triumphant we felt. I felt. She felt. This was not easy. But I am convinced it was worth the pain. It is a big change. A HUGE change. But, we are on the other side now, and we lived to tell about it.
This is a new normal for us. The jury is still out on whether or not we love it, but we doing okay. And I am thankful. I moved my office desk into her room. Her giant stuffed Alpaca, Edgar, is looking at me as I type. He didn’t fit in the back of the Kia Soul. And, Sabrina and I text every day and sometimes talk. And we laugh a lot, and sometimes we really miss each other – and Dulce de Leche ice cream. But, we’re good.
So if you’re there, if you’re getting ready for the big send-off, know that you can do this. You will feel – at moments – like you can’t. But you can and will survive it by focusing on the end. And by remembering to breathe. This is what you have been preparing your child for – this is why you’ve studied hard and raised them right. And really…you don’t want a 40-year-old hermit living in your basement, right?
So, go. Breathe. Sigh. Cry. And then rejoice.
You’ve done it. You’ve given birth to an adult. Congratulations.
And, by the way, mine is amazing.
This post was originally published at Jamie’s blog.
Jamie Janosz is the author of When Others Shuddered, Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up. A faculty member at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL for 16 years, she is now the Content Development Manager. She and her husband love vintage clothes, architecture, cars, music, and rockabilly events. Their college-aged daughter is decidedly modern and helps keep their feet planted in the 21st century.