Running to Your Next Journey: College Move-In Day


The happiest I have ever seen my son was on graduation day! He actually smiled for a photo!

Photo credit above: Me, I suck at photography as you can see!

For any runner, particularly marathoners like myself, being prepared is essential. You have to put in the time, energy and effort to result in a great performance on race day although there are still no guarantees. The same is true for any parent about to drop their child off at college. You ideally want to also be ready for college move-in day and the emotions that follow in your new stage of life. The truth is I love running almost as much as I love my first-born who is about to leave for college. I have been thinking about his impending departure for about a year now. Yes, it’s true. (I told you I like to be prepared.) Once he took his senior pictures last summer with our dog, Summit, I have been realizing how little time was left until he left for college. One by one we checked off the milestones during his senior year: college visits, SATs, FAFSA, Common App, NHS induction, AP exams, college acceptances, a school trip to Italy, college decision, senior week and finally graduation. I knew the past year was going to speed by at a blistering pace and that is exactly what happened! As the year progressed and I find myself on the cusp of college drop-off day, it has occurred to me just how much this process is like preparing for and running a marathon.

TRAINING / PREPARATION PHASE:

Being a diligent planner my entire life, I have been training and preparing for this moment for quite some time. I started my son’s 529 plan a month after he was born because I wanted to at least be financially ready for this day, if NOT emotionally. Each year I put his latest school picture in his Kindergarten through Grade 12 picture frame, counting down the number of empty spaces and knowing the years were ticking downward at a pace a little too fast for my liking. As his senior year approached, we continued our meticulous due diligence and racked up many driving miles visiting 9 universities. He eagerly applied and was accepted to 8 of them with his final 3 choices being URI, UVM and Bryant. In a nick of time, he selected URI on April 30th.

As any runner knows, another key part of preparation for any great performance or event is visualization. During this past year’s training cycle, I have visualized what this impending transition will feel like. I have completely submerged myself in the moment at the college start line and I feel deeply moved by the emotion I anticipate feeling. I understand the herculean effort it has taken to be at the starting line of a college career of a boy (now MAN!) (Again, how can this possibly be?) that I love so incredibly much. I am excited. I am emotional. However, I still feel physically powerful and mentally strong. I don’t want to crumble beneath the self-imposed pressure to not outwardly cry and show my emotions to my family and outsiders who might secretly judge my weakness. I know crying is the result of deep emotions surfacing and although it is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s also contagious. If I cry, then my daughters will cry. If they cry, then my son might feel sad and maybe even my husband might become teary-eyed too. Instead, I will try so hard to hold it in and channel my emotions properly just like I do on an actual race day. It’s not time to cry but rather it’s time to be strong and use that emotion to forge ahead on the course. I will still bring my sunglasses and tissues though, just in case.

TAPER PHASE:

For the past few weeks, we have been finishing up the old phase of life, so-to-speak. My son has been taking it easy by cutting back on his work hours, spending time with friends and resting whenever he feels like it. I have been making sure he is eating well at his favorite restaurants and spoiling him with a few shopping excursions to get whatever he wants because this “kid” has never asked me for anything over the past 18 years. I want him to remember his last few weeks at home as good ones and know that he has earned this rest period before he embarks on a new journey. And just like that, ironically, we have reached a finish line of sorts. Our son is 18, an official adult, to now live life as he chooses. Old enough to vote and legally sign his name to documents without our consent or involvement. From the day he was born, we always imagined the day when our baby would turn 18 and be “on his own.” Well, here we are people and it went faster than you can imagine. I don’t know how 18 YEARS went by THAT FAST, but it DID! We did it! We reached the finish line! Well, just this finish line.

THE STARTING LINE:

As we close the chapter on childhood and very soon we will reach the starting line for a new adult journey. It is the culmination of many years of hard work, by him and by us too, I guess. It is finally race day, I mean college move-in day. It is where months and years of preparation meet up with their purpose. I worry if any of us will get enough sleep this upcoming week? Will I toss and turn with anxiety and look at the clock every 15 minutes the night before his departure? We paid quite a steep registration fee for this race, but it is well-worth it. Our son is going to study Engineering and he has big goals and plans. I am nervous and I am excited for him and all the great experiences that await him in his young life. However, I need to be in control of my pace and my emotions. I don’t want to feel overwhelmed by the literal distance that awaits me. Whether it is a 26.2 mile run or a 118 mile drive, I need to be strong and tackle it bravely. I need to take a deep breath and make the journey to a new destination in life, which doesn’t always include him anymore. Normally, it is so exciting to have a new starting line because that means you are on a new journey. It is all these little journeys that make life wonderful and fulfilling. After all, this is a starting line I have been planning for 18 years. I should be ready for this one, right? But this one is different. It means life progresses without him nearby all of the time and that is why I am a little sad. He is my first-born and 18 years disappeared just like that because I certainly don’t feel any older. LOL.

Your race experience, just like your experience as you say goodbye to your new college freshman, is completely unique to you. Thousands of other runners racing and parents dropping off their “children” at colleges for the first time will have their own individual experience. Some will be happy, some will be sad and some nervous and anxiety-ridden. Some will experience all those emotions, and more. Just like on race day, you never know exactly how it is going to feel until you get to the starting line and actually embark on the journey and settle into a manageable pace.

RECOVERY:

But I wonder, as the move-in day comes to a close, if I will be bawling my eyes out as I walk away from him. (Reminder, I did cry when he left for Italy for 9 days in April so I’m curious if I will have a repeat performance?) I don’t want to cry though. I simply want to be happy for him and this new chapter of his life. He is my son and I am so incredibly proud of him. He’s a great person and I would say this about him even if I was not his mother because he is that kind of kid.

Frankly, I just don’t know how I am going to feel in a couple of weeks and neither does he! Is it going to be a long, arduous road of him missing his childhood home and dog, or will he be partying it up with his newly formed friends at URI? Will I cry every time I walk by his room and look at his senior and graduation pictures? Will I want to text him every other day or just let him text when he maybe wants to talk to me or FaceTime the dog? It is at this time in life we lose a bit of certainty as we can’t control what will happen to him or the direction of his college career. It is completely up to him now and I am truly good with that. I want to let go and let him find his way in life because I love him and I want him to be the best person HE can be on his own, without me and my husband. (But not forget about me completely, you know, because I am still his mother after all! ) Whatever happens, we will still be there for him if he needs us, to guide, to advise and to love. We are still his parents and I can only imagine that our pride and love will continue to grow over time as he evolves into the human that he is meant to be. It is a huge adjustment and transition that will not happen without a few rough moments. Life as we know it will change, but as with any transition, change can be a wonderful thing. It refreshes people and it helps people grow as individuals. How can you not be happy with those results since that is the purpose of living!

POST-RACE EXPERIENCE & ANALYSIS:

As we know, the marathon and the college experience both have their ups and downs. It is going to be tiring climbing those hills of adversity and experiencing adult life along the way. Both parents and their newly-adult children will need to power through it sometimes. It will be necessary on more than one occasion to take a deep breath and engage in positive self-talk. After it is all said and done 4 years from now, we will collectively cherish the accomplishment and then we will soon “sign up and register” for the next race. That is what is so great about life. It’s a series of many marathons, many starts, many miles, many trials and tribulations and many finishes along the way. If life stayed the same, it would be as boring as can be. The key is to enjoy, not only endure, the many steps along the way and come out of these experiences even better than before. It is my hope that we will all be accepting of this upcoming change and that we have prepared sufficiently enough but remember, there are no guarantees. I think it's a good idea to bring my tissues wherever I go, just in case. And to put it in perspective, my son is ONLY 4 MARATHONS AWAY! I can run 4 marathons, no problem.

Our 2 daughters will keep us hopping while Ryan is away at college. No rest for the weary!

IMMEDIATE POST MOVE-IN DAY NOTES:

Well the good news is that I didn't completely ball my eyes out when saying goodbye to him yesterday! I asked him if we could give him a hug. He is sensitive and caring but not a touchy-feely person and saves his hugs for special occasions! This was quite an occasion. He said, "Sure" and proceeded to give me a giant hug. He hasn't given me a hug like that since he was like 5 but it was worth the wait. I told him how much I love him and that he is going to do great. I still felt strong and in control of my emotions. However, as I let him go and looked left to my oldest daughter, SHE was balling her eyes out so I got a little teary eyed, but I had to keep somewhat composed for him. I was thinking, "Come on Stephanie! YOU were the one who said we were going to "keep our emotions IN CHECK TODAY!" LOL! After all, his new roommate was there and we didn't want to look like a bunch of emotional saps. My son even hugged his younger sister, whom he does not have the greatest relationship with, and even she was crying! Pat got a little teary-eyed too and then we proceeded to walk away and close the door. It was one of those moments that none of us will ever forget. We drove 2 hours home to the continuous sounds of my oldest daughter's sniffling and music blaring out my youngest daughter's earbuds. Just like for Ryan, our new normal life has officially begun.


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