It is Monday morning and the cars are gassed up, packed to capacity and, of course, we are running behind schedule to get on the road. “Bye Beano Boy,” I hear Hayden say to the pup that has been his best friend through the transitions in life over the last few years. A sad Beano Boy looks back at him with what looks like tears in his eyes. He knows this is the day that everyone with human children talk about - College move-in Day!
College move-in day? How is this possible and how am I going through this as an actual parent? To say that this day came quicker than expected is a typical feeling for any parent, but for me, it is especially the understatement of the decade. I know all parents feel like they blinked and their child went from the delivery room to college. In my case, I blinked and my child went from an annoying ten-year old running around my colleague’s office during meetings to being my whole world and now to college.
While other couples spent time together getting to know each other in the dating phase, eventually getting engaged, moving in together, getting married and then having children, my husband and I did all of that with our youngest son, Hayden, by our side the entire time. Kevin and I were learning the new normal and navigating a new relationship but our son and I were breeding a whole different relationship as well. We learned together what it meant to be a parent and a child. For the first time, he had a mom and dad and rules and structure as well as security and unconditional love and I had a responsibility much bigger than myself and my puppy!
For eight years, Kevin and I would always say “we only have eight years and then we will be empty-nesters”. And now, I realize that…. I only had eight years. At thirty-two years old, entering a new relationship with a man that had sole custody of two children, eight years seemed like a life time. Now, at forty-years old, having raised the youngest of those children as the only stable mother figure he has known and now having adopted him, eight years was not nearly enough time. I always say that I was on the accelerated parent program as the two boys have certainly made up for the time I missed with them when they were younger, but this day came way too quickly and my emotions are not at all what I expected.
It is not as though I think he is leaving me forever. I am hard enough on him that he knows I will jump in the car and storm his dorm room the first time he does not answer his phone when I call or text (that is probably not an exaggeration, sad to say). But it is time for him to leave the nest and he is going to my alma mater no less. I would have never thought I would have a son heading off to the same college as I did. In my family, four of us are graduates from the University of Southern Mississippi (SMTTT) and he will be the first child from the next generation to follow in our footsteps! That is my kid? No. That is my kid! It still seems surreal to me.
On Monday, the feeling of parent was solidified as my husband and I closed the door to Hayden’s dorm room and walked to the car. The tears came out of nowhere and I could not stop them. As we drove around campus heading to the interstate my husband asked me what I was feeling. I assume it was the same feeling that all parents feel; sadness but also excitement for this next stage of life. But more than that, I remember so vividly what my time in college was like and to have this opportunity to have my own child walk the same halls and hopefully share the same love I have for such a huge part of my life is something I never really knew was even important to me, until it actually happened.
Life throws challenges and twists and turns at you throughout every different phase. How you overcome those challenges and what decisions you make will determine where you go in the future. For me, the person I was at USM and the twist and turns over the past twenty years brought me here and the reward has brought me back to one of my favorite times in my life, but now I am here with my son. This week, his future starts in the very same place. From this point on, the decisions he makes will affect where he ends up and whether or not he will reap the rewards or regret the repercussions. He will have real consequences and we will not be following behind him every day making sure he is making the right choices. So, was eight years enough time? Did we do enough in our time together as parents to show him the way? Thankfully, he was listening when I shared my amazing USM stories, so I hope the rest of it stuck as well.
I just hope that I taught him that getting involved is the only way to get the most out of his time in college. I hope he remembers to be a leader, not a follower, to follow his gut, his heart and his instincts and to know the differences between each of them, to be smart, to be sweet, to be humble (always), and to be the voice that speaks for the underdog! I hope he will be the best version of himself and that he will drink, but NEVER drive, be silly, but not wreck less, fall in love, but not be the only one who has fallen. I hope that he will always be willing to walk away from those that do not deserve him, to always help someone in need even if it means going against the grain and to never be afraid to leave any situation that he knows in his gut feels wrong. I hope he will never be the fall guy, that he will become friends with everyone but only make major decisions with the friends that value him, that he will make mistakes, but NOT mistakes with life-changing consequences and that he will never change his course for a girl (if she loves him, she will respect his dreams and what it takes to get there as much as she cherishes her own). Most importantly, I hope he knows that we are aware that he may not always tell us everything, but he can always tell his dad and I ANYTHING (and we will be there).
I hope we did enough to teach him that college is not only about earning his degree and the knowledge that comes from that. It is about being on your own for the first time and growing into the person you are going to be in the future. The next four years set the foundation for who he will be moving forward. I hope he makes the most of it because it will go quickly and this is the last time he will ever have this little bit of responsibility (no matter how overwhelming this responsibility might seem right now). After this, adulting will come to kick his ass and it is all on him. So, Hayden, make the most of your last four years as a student, make us proud and have the time of your life, just like your mama did!