In June 2008, we attended college orientation with our only child. Always interested in how the government works (or doesn’t work), he chose a college in Washington DC. For anyone who loves politics and American history, living in Washington DC gives you a front row seat.
My husband and I both grew up in rural Indiana, and raised our child in semi-rural Indiana. While we were excited for our son’s opportunities in our nation’s capital, we were also terrified of a city we only knew as tourists. And mostly clueless tourists, at that, out-of-towners unable to figure out the Metro or the rotaries.
What we didn’t realize at the time was that when your child flies the nest, it doesn’t really matter if your baby bird lands in Oakland City, Indiana, or Nome, Alaska. The experience is the same for both student and parents,
Your nest is empty.
At orientation, the students and parents were split into groups. The matriculates were relieved to be sprung from parents, and the parents were ready for assurance that everything was going to be okay.
Our orientation leader spoke to us about students coming to Washington DC from all over the country and the world. She told us that all of the freshman look and act the same.
No matter a student’s race, color or religion, all students have that slightly vacant look of horror for the first few days. You can easily pick them out, she said, they walk more slowly than the older students and lack the confidence of upperclassmen.
Then the orientation leader told us the most unbelievable thing. She said that years later she will see freshman she’s met at orientation and they no longer look like scared high school students, they look like all the other Washingtonians headed to work, wearing dress clothes and carrying a black bag.
I remember thinking, I just can’t see this. This isn’t going to happen.
I was so concerned about the security in the freshman dorm, my son learning the Metro system and my assertion that he never move off campus into that wicked city.
Does every parent feel this way? I think we probably pigeon-hole our children at age eighteen, perhaps out of our own fear. I know have a fuller appreciation for how my parents must have felt when they drove me to my college in September 1975 (when all the roads were being repaired, which I’m fairly certain is a campus fall tradition to cause as much chaos to incoming freshmen as possible.) When I moved into my first “town” apartment, my mother cried when she saw it.
I was wrong to be so afraid. Training your child to be cautious is good; hysterical worrying is not good.
Last Sunday morning, Mother’s Day 2012, our son walked across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree.
When he came out to meet us on the Quad, he took off his blue robe, and out emerged a man in a nice suit with a perfectly pressed white shirt and tie tied with a perfect Windsor knot.
The boy was gone and in his place stood an educated man.