We took our firstborn to college yesterday. This is a first for our family, so we’re not sure what to expect, feel or think.
Leading up to taking him, I was busy helping tie up loose ends at home. He and I shopped for dorm items. My husband and I went over a myriad of business details relating to school and before we knew it, it was the night before he was supposed to leave.
That’s when it hit me–like a brick. Nausea overcame me.
No matter how many Tums I chewed, Prilosec pills I swallowed, or Saltine crackers I munched on, nothing worked.
After mindlessly chomping my way through an entire sleeve of crackers, I realized something…this felt familiar.
I had horrendous morning sickness when I was pregnant with our son. Just ask my husband.
It took literally hours for me to be able to get out of bed each day. He had to leave a cooler with orange juice and grapes by my side of the bed. It was all I could possibly tolerate in the beginning.
He could not use the oven or the microwave, and anything he ate had to be consumed outside. One whiff of any food and there I went running to the bathroom, again.
Brushing my teeth made me gag.
I laid in bed most of the first three months, getting up only to throw up or dry heave over the toilet.
At eight weeks, I caught a stomach bug on top of the morning sickness. Great.
This landed me in the hospital.
The upside? I got to see our boy way before I normally would have as they ordered a sonogram to make sure he was okay despite how sick I was.
Oh my goodness! What a treat! He was the cutest little human I’d ever laid my eyes on. Look at this lil’ pumpkin! Eight weeks!!
After the hospital escapade, I was back to waffling between throwing up, eating nothing and craving McDonald’s filet-o-fish sandwiches, Boston Market’s creamed spinach, Captain Crunch, Lucky Charms and cherry Now & Laters.
I joke that I can’t believe he wasn’t born with two heads with that meal line-up. :O
The gnawing nausea of morning sickness is like nothing else in the world. My grandmother used to say, “It’s a sick, sick.”
She was right.
With each doctor’s visit during those months, I only lost weight. I remember crying in the mirror, longing to have a baby bump.
But, I kept pushing through the tears and weakness, knowing it was all completely worth it because soon I was going to get to hold my little baby boy.
Two days ago, when the nausea began I realized that what I was feeling was so much like when I was pregnant. But this time, it was mourning sickness.
Even though I thought I had handled it pretty well up to this point, our bodies can’t lie. Stress, pain and grieving find their way out, no matter how hard our minds try to suppress the weight of reality.
When I was pregnant, and the first contractions came, I put on make up, double-checked my hospital bag and celebrated the impending excitement with my husband.
After 56 hours of grueling labor (28 hours when contractions were 5 minutes apart and 28 hours of them 2 minutes apart), my husband grabbed the hospital bag and ran every red light to get me there in time.
On the way I thought to myself, “It feels like we’re packing for a trip from which we’ll never return.”
I was right. Parenthood has a one-way ticket. Once a parent, always a parent, no matter our children’s ages or circumstance.
As we loaded up our van with our son’s college things, I recalled the same thought, “We’re packing again, but this time it is a return trip–without him.”
It’s not a forever goodbye, Lord willing, but goodbye to a season of parenting. He’s still our son, but no longer a child.
There is nothing that really prepares a parent for this experience. Whether it’s college, the military, a gap year or the workforce, change closes the chapter on all we new as normal.
I felt like I was going to throw up all the way to the school. However, once we arrived adrenaline coursed my veins and I was in full business mode.
Much like showtime for giving birth, a second wind rushes in and we moms do what we have to do to survive.
I am a relentless nester, so I was in the zone. I didn’t want to overstep my role and set up his room for him, but I wanted to help a guy who was a bit overwhelmed himself.
I parked myself at his closet in the corner and hung up all his clothes. That was a great place to settle. I wasn’t thinking for him or making dorm decisions for him, but I was indeed helping him – and that made me feel good and connected and productive.
His dad and he wrestled with all of the computer technical stuff, of which I was very fine to not get involved.
No matter how many times we thought through the packing list, cross-referencing the school’s list with stores’ lists, he was still short a few necessities so off we flew to the closest store. We were on a time schedule to get our daughter to work back home. Stressful!
I was not prepared for the hoards of people at this store! It made Black Friday look like a regular old Tuesday morning. Never have I seen a store so ransacked, nearly looted. There was not a pair of nail clippers to be found. Trust me–I looked.
And check out the checkout line–all for college shopping, judging by the cartloads. This is only a third of it!!
Tick toc! Thank goodness our youngest stood in line while we flew through the store like we were on a game show racing the clock to find a number of disjointed items in the least amount of time.
Walking into the bright sunlight in the parking lot, the adrenaline that had peaked in me while in the store crashed in me like a sugar-buzzed child riding home from the circus.
The nausea returned in full force because I knew the next item on the to-do list was…to say goodbye.
We were in a hurry to get back home, but my heart so badly wanted to stay, just a little longer.
Anyone need to go to the bathroom? Thirsty? Hungry? All of the well-worn procrastinations of childhood were now full throttle in me.
Now that our son is an adult, I can say that he is one of my best friends. It was ripping my heart out to think of leaving him.
We unpacked the last of the bags and he walked me back to the van to give everyone one last hug.
Like being pregnant, we had planned and prepared his whole life for this moment. The moment when new plans and dreams and passions would give birth to a bright future full of adventure, hard work and great memories waiting to be made.
He couldn’t stay inside me forever, nor could the dreams he has be fulfilled if he stayed home.
I know this in my head, but tell that to my heart.
And then the day was done. He was unpacked. Our job was complete.
I pulled him close, like when he was born, and held him in my arms and whispered to him how much I love him.
I looked him in the eyes and told him how proud I am of him, all the while my gut is twisting inside me knowing I’ll have to face his empty bedroom and chair at the table.
The rest of us piled into the van, sans our oldest. He stood on the sidewalk, eyes filling with tears as he tried to manage a smile to make us feel better.
It just didn’t feel right. My whole motherhood I’ve always made sure our children were safe, knowing at all times where they were.
Now I’m just going to leave him on the sidewalk? It felt like I was committing treason against his heart.
It felt the same as the first day I dropped him off at preschool. He was crying for me while the teachers smiled and reassured me he’d be fine.
They told me that, for his good, I needed to just walk away, and that the longer I stood there the worse it would be for him.
I remembered those words as I fastened my seat belt, not wanting to leave, yet feeling I needed to go, for his sake.
I plastered on a wide smile, choking on the lump welling up in my throat. I could hardly breathe, but had to push through the tears and weakness of heart so I could let my baby boy go.
The smile stayed frozen on my face as we cheered for him out the windows, waving all the way down the street.
He stood in the middle of the street, watching us drive away until he could see us no more.
That plastered smile quickly faded when my husband immediately broke into an ugly cry. His tears were contagious, and as we drove onto the highway we just cried and cried.
The hole in this cloud on the way home reminded me of the hole I feel in my heart.
When we went to the hospital all those years ago, it was my journey as a mother that was beginning. My bag was packed and I was ready for a one-way road into motherhood, just as my husband was for fatherhood.
Yesterday, it is our son’s journey that is beginning. His bags were packed and he is ready for his one-way ticket to the plans God has for him.
It was a silent ride home.
Today, I awoke praying for him. I spent two hours waking up and going back to sleep, each time praying for him with all of my heart. Praying that God would show Himself in a personal way to my boy who feels very alone among thousands of people.
We hardly ever miss church, but I couldn’t do it today. I couldn’t shower, get ready and absorb a sermon and talk to people. Today, I needed solitude. And that’s okay.
I ventured out to Target, again, and in doing so I accidentally left my returns at home, forgot the shopping list in the van, and left the store without the very thing I went to get – printed photos I spent hours compiling for our boy. And that’s okay.
Things are not normal today.
We are exhausted from all the activity and needed a day to rebound. And that’s okay.
I put on my walking clothes when I got up and still haven’t walked. I just don’t have it in me today. And that’s okay.
My husband has cried off and on throughout the day. Not me. My tears will come when the last of the adrenaline wears off and I’m setting a table for four beloveds instead of five; when my other two teens come home and tell me how their days were and he doesn’t come home; when I watch our dog wait for him by the back door.
For now, I’ve channeled the last bit of emotional energy left in me into beginning a care package for our boy. It’s one way I feel like I’m still involved in this new chapter of his life.
It seems like just yesterday we were buckling him into his infant car seat. However, yesterday we were strapping down all of his belongings to a trailer.
We were just breaking in a new crib, trying to figure out how it worked. We were trying to find wi-fi and ether net cables and shuttled routes.
I was hanging his matching Gymboree baby outfits in his baby wardrobe. I was hanging his adult medium, trendy button-downs and pants in a rented old closet with a lock.
We were finishing reading “What to expect when you’re expecting” and beginning to read, “What to expect the first year.” We were reading, “Welcome college parents” and “Navigating the first year of college.”
We were taking a ton of photographs of him sleeping and us holding him in his nursery. We were taking photographs of him setting up his stuff and with his new roommate in their dorm room.
We were calling family to tell them how he was settling in. I was texting family and friends telling them how he was settling in.
We had a baby monitor on the nightstand. We have our cell phones on our nightstand, just for him–just in case.
We were crying tears of joy that this little guy was ours to have and hold forever. We are crying tears of thankfulness for the last 19 years, knowing now he was never ours to keep, rather God has big plans for him and it’s time to share him with the world.
We were praying blessings over his baby days. We are praying blessings over all of his days to come.
He’ll be fine. Not sure about me for a while.
Morning sickness was hard, but I knew it was just for a season.
Mourning sickness is hard because I know this is the beginning of the rest of his life.
I am looking forward to all of the ways in which our family will grow through this change. But for today, no Saltines, Tums or Prilosec will help this mama’s heart. There is grieving to do. And that’s okay because I have the privilege of watching him become the man he was born to be.