Delaware Today magazine Final Word: A column by Joanne Cannon about her son heading off to the University of Delaware in Newark
Letting Go: Sending him off to college was emotional ... and excruciating.
illustration by Byron Eggenschwiler
There I was, a spectator in the auditorium at the University of Delaware with my college-bound son. I was attempting to listen to the rhetoric on why he should attend this impressive institution. I say attempting to listen because I found it rather difficult to hear what they were saying. My mind was doing most of the talking. I glance in his direction and although my eyes physically see a young man getting ready to embark on this milestone, my mind’s eye envisions a little boy needing help to reach the seat. Where has the time gone?
I knew this day would come, when he would venture from my protective custody to this wild world free of parental control. Unbeknownst to me, life has been preparing us for this day since, well, kindergarten. I remembered the first school bus whisking him away, with his little face pressed up against the window, bringing on an attack of separation anxiety—causing me to follow the school bus all the way to school. Each grade brought us closer to this. Is he prepared?
How can he be ready to navigate his way around this massive campus when his dirty clothes have yet to find his hamper? What if he forgets to do his laundry and runs out of underwear or, heaven forbid, wears dirty underwear—or no underwear? Isn’t this the son who left out his retainer four times, only to allow the dog to chew it up—with each occurrence at $190 a pop? Plus, he loses everything. Countless times it’s been, “Where’s my phone, my wallet, my car keys, my bankcard, my iPod?” Who is going to help him keep track if I’m not there?
I question whether my parenting skills made him independent enough to live away but loved enough to want to return. I’ve doubted myself since becoming a mom. Isn’t it up to me to be perfect at the toughest job known to man? I wonder if I’ve sheltered him, or if any of my indiscretions harmed him. The sound of applause brings me back, and as I peruse the room, I see the faces of the other parents. I wonder if these insecurities run amuck in their minds, too.
Does he know mistakes are inevitable and that the way he takes responsibility for them will prove his character? Is he aware that with every choice comes a consequence? Will he stop drinking alcohol even when pushed? Does he know he can tell me anything? Does he have any idea how much I love him?
As we make our way through campus I realize what a big world it is out there. I can’t walk with him on this journey. This is his life. He’ll follow the right path. I tried my best and I keep the precious memories tucked in my heart.
My son is famished, of course. We head to the food court. This seems to be his favorite part, so he won’t go hungry. I figure he’ll visit occasionally for a home-cooked meal or money—or for me to do his laundry. Maybe he does still need me.
I know I’ll occasionally enter his room expecting to see him and my heart will drop when I don’t. Some things will change. But he will always be my son and I his mother. That is forever.