College Bound
August 21, 2012 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Over the past few weeks, I, along with ten of my closest friends, have taken turns saying our goodbyes to our college bound kids. For some of us, this was a virgin voyage; for others, it was the beginning of an empty nest.

I don't have kids but I thought this was very touching and gave an interesting perspective on life.
posted by Foci for Analysis (44 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so glad my mother didn't have an existential breakdown when any of us moved out of the house.
posted by jacalata at 7:17 PM on August 21, 2012

I guess Dad was just sad to be out a tax deduction.
posted by docpops at 7:20 PM on August 21, 2012

After reading so many article about the helicopter parenting trend (and seeing proof first hand as well), it was pretty comforting to see "Yes, this is creepy but I don't fucking care" but yet seem to let go anyway.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:24 PM on August 21, 2012

It made me feel heartless; we sold our house to get rid of the kids. (Boys: "Oh! The house is sold? When are we moving?" Us: "Erm. Who is this 'we' you speak of?") Our chicks would have been quite happy to eat and poop in the nest forever.

On that note, I must head off to bed so I can get up early and drive the elder chick back to the city after his visit to his brother's. You see, it doesn't end when they leave.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:24 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

We've sent 7 off, most of them keep coming back..... The question becomes, how many kids can you rename "Bad Penny"?
posted by HuronBob at 7:31 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't have an objective opinion because I've buried one of my kids but this woman seemed hysterical and melodramatic. For God's sake, she'll be home at Spring Break. Get a fucking grip.
posted by toastedbeagle at 7:32 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

I am one of the only stay at home mothers I know who doesn't weep at every stage of development and who is actively excited about my kids growing up. Didn't cry when they went off to kindergarten, don't expect I'll cry when they go off to middle school, high school, or college.

I think I'm a rare bird. I actually look forward to my children growing up. I'm not overly sentimental about them in each stage--I like to reminisce about them as babies, toddlers, etc. but I really enjoy them in the moment and I don't really get it when people say something like "enjoy them now, the time goes by so fast". Yeah, obviously. But they're so interesting in each stage, why would I not want the time to keep going?
posted by padraigin at 7:34 PM on August 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

We dropped the kid off at college in 2000, and drove away, me crying, my husband smoking. We got a kitten the next day to replace her. Now we have a house in the city with no bedroom for her. But she lives nearby and we have spaghetti dinner once a week, and Friday we're driving to the beach for the day. I love her to bits. Just lucky, I guess, since I stopped with one, but she has always been a delight even when she wasn't easy.

And we still give her money and support while she's in graduate school. But so did my mother, for me, and her mother, for her. That's not some new development. It's how our extended family's women have managed to be overeducated for the last century.

The down side is that when I get old, she'll have to help me, like I did my mother and my mother helped her mother. Or maybe that's the up side.
posted by Peach at 7:35 PM on August 21, 2012 [13 favorites]

Toastedbeagle, so did I, which is why I said "most" in my comment... hang in there....
posted by HuronBob at 7:36 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I love my kid but am perfectly happy that he doesn't live with us anymore. As soon as he graduated we moved back into the city, which we never should have left in the first place, and started going to a lot of concerts, plays, dances, fancy restaurants, etc. We're having a great time as empty nesters, don't really understand crying about it.
posted by octothorpe at 7:41 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Why does it sound like this person expects to never see their child again? The reaction seems more appropriate to a death sentence than four or five years at college that may well be capped off by the spawn coming back home to live for a while, or at least in the same city. Even if not, adults and their parents are perfectly capable of making plans to see each other regularly if they like.
posted by wierdo at 7:51 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

My son starts college tomorrow - 15 minutes from home, and he'll be living here, at least for the first two years. Seemed kind of silly to spend $5000 a year on room & board when he is so close. The upside is commuter students can have cars on campus, so he'll be one of the few freshmen with a car. That should make him quite popular :)
posted by COD at 7:55 PM on August 21, 2012

My kids are both in their 20's now. I'm still awaiting the joyous occasion of their departure.

In the meantime, I have this list of things to do. Or at least, I used to. I swear, I saw that shiny list of hopeful things a few minutes ago... or, maybe a little longer than that? But then, there was driving and orchestra and school meetings and boyfriend heartbreaks and police calls (thankfully few police calls!) and wondering where they are at 3am and there's no way we can afford college and all this infernal busy-ness...

Anyway, if you run across my list, send it my way. I can't for the life of me remember what was on it.
posted by underflow at 8:01 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

My sister is getting hit twice this year. Her youngest starts college 150 miles away, her oldest is going to get her doctorate four states away (after graduating from a local college). She's started painting again (hasn't since highschool).
posted by doctor_negative at 8:04 PM on August 21, 2012

My parents were more trepidatious in the weeks leading up to college. For the entire last summer before I went to college, every time Mom left the house on some errand she'd come back with a "college essential" for me - everything from stuff I actually needed, like a desk lamp or a dish set, to useful but extra things like a collapsible clothes drying rack - to bags of chips and boxes of crackers. And every time she came home with something she insisted on showing it to me, and then re-showing me everything she'd already gotten, as she added it to the rapidly-growing pile in the living room. I was going to New York City, but it looked like she was kitting me out for a solo hike up Everest.

As for Dad, he was cool until we were moving me to New York -- and then suddenly, even though I'd never once given him any indication I was changing my mind about wanting to go to school there, he somehow got it into his head that I had had second thoughts and was just going along with the plan to go to NYU so as not to cause trouble. He spent the entire four-hour drive from Eastern Connecticut telling me "you know, it's really okay if you've changed your mind, you don't have to do this, just say the word and we'll turn around."

I think I subconsciously knew they were both flipping out about their firstborn leaving home and just handled them both with great patience; I'd let Mom show me the pile of "college essentials" again and again all summer, and through the whole drive to school I'd just patiently tell Dad that "I understand, but I promise I do want to do this."

They may have cried on the way home; I cried a bit that first night.

But I was fine after the first night - and when my parents visited me a month later for "Parents' Weekend," they fell in love with New York City as well, and that instantly transformed them from fretting about their Baby Girl to "wait, we now have an excuse to visit New York City. Sweet!" And that was that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

My son moved out earlier this summer.

I like him and all that, but god it is so nice having the house to myself again. Well, me and the wife, but she doesn't eat my leftover pizza without asking.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:14 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

My mother brought up me and my sister with the knowledge (that she made sure we knew) that we were going to grow up and leave. Her logic was that that was why she would always put my dad first, not us kids, because she didn't want to wake up at some point and realize she'd been too engrossed with the kids (who'd then leave) and have no relationship left.

I'm still not sure how I feel about it from the point of view of the kid I was (not the adult today). But they're definitely a very close couple still after 47 years of marriage.
posted by infini at 8:47 PM on August 21, 2012

My parents started sending both my sister and I to summer camps of various sorts as soon as we were old enough, like at 8 or 9. By the time we were in our high school years, if you added up the weeks at music camp and scout camp and the 50 miler hike and church camp, we were probably both gone a total of about 6 weeks each summer.

I know they both used that time with us away to pursue their own interests as adults in various ways.

The transition to being done with high school and going away to whereever we were going (I went to Germany as an exchange student after high school, my sister went to school out of state) was not a big deal either for us or our parents.

It's hard for me to fathom what it would be like to have never had your children away from you (or to be away from your parents) for any length of time and have the separation be a trauma. Somehow, I think my family is richer for the lack of that particular experience.
posted by hippybear at 9:02 PM on August 21, 2012

Having just made the transition from young woman to "mother" three years ago, and what a brutal transition it is, I'm now watching my parents transition to being empty nesters this year after 34 years of full-time parenting minor children as the youngest finishes college and is getting ready to move on. I can't even imagine after 34 years of your primary identity being "parent," quite what you do when it isn't any longer. (I mean, I can barely imagine what to do with myself for four hours when I get a sitter) Parenting can be so all-consuming -- the arrive in your life screaming and sleepless and helpless and go out the other end hopefully competent -- but after 18 years or 34 years or however many years you're suddenly alone, the ceaseless storm of childrearing will just be periodic squalls from now on. What on earth does one do with the quiet and free time?

I didn't cry about pre-school starting (the other moms all were). I was happy he was having fun, and pretty psyched I got a couple hours to myself. I do sometimes cry about haircuts that make him look like a big boy, but only where nobody can see me. But, boy, launching him for good? I better start thinking of hobbies now.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:17 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I raised my daughters to be independent and adventurous, but there was definitely a pull at the heart when we dropped the first one off three days drive away for her first day at college 4 years ago. And now in two weeks she will move to another continent where what comes on the news is not always calm and peaceful. I will miss her very much, but I am also ready for her to become what her heart leads her to.
Now her younger sister has taken a gap year before college and having a fledgeling that doesn't want/know how to fly probably causes more tears/anxiety then any empty nest will.

On another note-I had no idea so many MeFites were of the age to have adult children. I feel less alone.
posted by Isadorady at 9:19 PM on August 21, 2012

The older I get, the more I'm willing to accept that the way other people raise their kids and experience family is often JUST fine. Bizarre, I know.

However, I found lots of time to do the things I loved when my daughter was young, and never thought I was supposed to sacrifice my life for hers (got my Ph.D. when she was a teen, and her dad started a business), so the idea of an "empty nest" is slightly alien to me. It was just a different dynamic when she left home.
posted by Peach at 9:22 PM on August 21, 2012

The question becomes, how many kids can you rename "Bad Penny"?

This is my fourth child, Malcento...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:25 PM on August 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'm the youngest by-far of four. When I moved off to college from Oklahoma to NYU, my parents went on vacation and had my older sister move me in.

Now when I tell that story it makes them sound cold, but it wasn't. At all.

They came back from vacation through New York, so as to see me for a few days at the end of orientation, once I'd found my feet. They said goodbye to me, their youngest, on what was to me my home footing, and in doing so saw me already settled and happy, so they didn't have to worry.

And they knew that I was (and am) very close with my siblings, and that any worries or doubts or crises I had along the way would be things I'd have an easier time talking through with them, rather than with my folks.

They loved me enough to stay out of that particular ritual and say goodbye in a more sensible way, is what I'm saying. Then they got a new puppy.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:35 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's tough. My daughter & I are pretty good friends, and I miss having her around because I miss the laughter & the bad jokes, and the discussions about mars and robots and music, and cooking together, and I miss the the way the top of her head smells when I hug her. But we talk on the phone nearly every day.

In June, she texted me from work at her summer internship, saying, "Daddy, I'm having a bad day, I miss you and I want to come home." I texted back some platitude, I recall not what. At six that evening, my phone rang, and when I picked it up, she shouted "OHMYGODSURFKAYAKINGISSOMUCHFUN!" It was almost as good as a hug.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:48 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Three weeks after I went to college (my family college, an hour away), my first-year seminar made a pilgrimage up to my hometown to see a movie we were studying. When I mentioned it, my parents invited us all over for a chili supper.

I was super excited to have them in my house. Then they asked where my bedroom was, and I opened the door to find... a guest room. Scratch that. It was KIND OF a guest room, with my waterbed replaced by a twin mattress, and all but two of my posters gone.

That not-quite-changed, not-quite-the-same feeling made it so much worse. I'd been expecting to change the room myself, possibly during fall break when I came home for a week. No such luck.

In fact, when I DID return for fall break, with a terrible reaction to my flu shot that kept me in bed all week, my brother (who was now driving my car) repeatedly told me that he didn't know why I was there because I didn't live there anymore, and my mother interrogated me at 1 a.m. about my ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend and whether I thought they were having sex.

So yeah. Don't do that.
posted by Madamina at 10:05 PM on August 21, 2012

I was prepared to hate on that story, but the fact that she recognized that this is her damage and she shouldn't inflict it on her daughter won me over.

But still it's no surprise she was having so much trouble. There were a couple of lines that really stuck out:
Over the past 18 years... I’ve known where she’s been, who with, and when she got home. I knew if she was eating, sleeping, I knew all her friends by name, and what she did on any given day.

Not seeing her daily after 18 years is not easy to quit cold turkey.
Any kid matching that description while I was growing up was having a very sheltered childhood.

I was way less social than most of my peers, but even from age 10 I would go off exploring in the big woods near our house and not return for hours and hours. I recently asked my mom how she had dealt with us kids being constantly at large in unknown places, and she said "I worried about you when you were gone, but I knew there was nothing I could do about it." The local culture expected that all kids would run around outside of adult knowledge, so as time went on, she got used to it. My mom and dad were good people, but we weren't friends, and from age 16 on (driver's license, car) all of us teenagers had our own lives that we didn't tell our parents about.
Senior year is a twelve month curriculum that teaches parents what parents initially taught their child: how to sit, crawl, stand, walk, and finally, how to let go.
The trouble with the Helicopter Parents is nothing wrong with the parents. They are doing what every good mom and dad have been genetically programmed to do forever: watch over their kids and protect them from harm. What's gone missing is the cultural expections that forced them to start learning "how to let go" back in 4th grade.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:08 PM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

We were empty-nesters for almost two whole years. Our son had moved to the big city and out daughter was off to college over in the next county.




And, then, they came back. Our son wasn't able to make ends meet in the more expensive city and our daughter decided to save some money and commute to school.

It was fun while it lasted.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:31 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you're all inferring that she was/is a helicopter parent, but I read it more as "I've been involved in this person's life for the past 18 years and now that's over."

Perhaps she was overstating the know where she is/who she's with for effect...
posted by kuanes at 4:05 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Daughter number 2 leaves for college on Saturday. Her older sister has been out of the house for years. Our youngest is a senior in high school this fall so we see the empty nest looming. Can't say I'm feeling sorrowful about it. We've loved raising our kids and we're really enjoying the relationship with them as young adults.

Our son is an athlete and we try to go to all his games but we're definitely looking forward to being free of the schedule constraints. I know we'll miss having the younger two around - the oldest has been out for enough years that it's our normal but at the same time we're both looking forward to being free of day to day parenting, driving, reminding about chores, homework, etc.
posted by leslies at 5:18 AM on August 22, 2012

"What's gone missing is the cultural expections that forced them to start learning "how to let go" back in 4th grade."

Um, no, what's missing is places for children to go without adult supervision. There are very few, communities are not built for children to walk or bike places, and helpful neighbors are known to call the cops when they see unaccompanied minors.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:19 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty shares his thoughts on sending his daughter, who has Down Syndrome, off to her final year of college.
posted by Mick at 5:26 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Um, no, what's missing is places for children to go without adult supervision.

Even in the town I live in, of about 10,000 people, I'm shocked at how rarely I see kids riding bikes around. When I was young and living in a much larger city, it was entirely common for my friends and I to go on excursions by bike or on foot all around our neighborhood. Nowadays, it's so rare that when I do see some kids out and about on their own, it stands out in my mind.
posted by hippybear at 5:47 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I worry a bit about getting emotional on the day of departure (coming up soon).

I recall my own parents were very matter of fact, dropped me off, cast an eye round the room, left, and never returned or even, so far as I remember, intitiated further contact (though they were more than happy whenever I initiated it).

But they were effusive compared to one friend I had whose parents left her to arrive in the big city for the first time by train with a huge steamer trunk. They didn't even go to the station with her; she had to call her own taxis at both ends.
posted by Segundus at 5:56 AM on August 22, 2012

I left for college (after living at home and attending public high school) at the same time as my younger sister left for boarding high school in 2004. My parents paid my tuition at college (well, the portion that wasn't paid by financial aid), but I was expected to work full-time during the summer and part-time during the semester to cover housing costs. They made it clear that once I graduated, at 22, there would be Absolutely No More Financial Help, and if I wanted to live at home for some reason, I would be required to contribute to the finances of the household equally. The same was true for my sister. This was partly out of necessity - they are not rich - and partly, I assume, an effort to make sure we exited college with a responsible plan in mind (and some savings!). It worked.

I guess that might sound a bit harsh from a certain perspective, but it was really anything but. My parents are the least harsh people I know. I dunno, I feel like things have just worked out really well for our family. I hope they feel the same; if they don't, I'd be really surprised because they tell me all the time how happy they are with their choice to raise a family and how much it means to them. They were definitely not helicopter parents. I was riding my bike miles away by the time I was 8. My sister and I definitely had our own lives in high school; they never pried too much. I'm pretty sure they never asked to see my grades or report card. When I left for college, they NEVER called for at least a year, because they were afraid of interfering in my life. When I called them once or twice a week they sounded delighted. They emailed pretty regularly but never required a response. I know they did miss me; I assume they also really enjoyed not having such a complex schedule.

The older I get the more I appreciate my family and the work that went in to making it what it is. My parents seem to really enjoy visiting me now. They honestly seem thrilled every time we get together, which makes me really happy. They've showed up to help me move, and they've also showed up for a fun weekend on the town on my bill. I've taken friends to visit them in the country and I've also showed up to help THEM move. I wish they could visit more, and they wish I could visit more, which is a whole lot better than wishing we saw less of each other.
posted by Cygnet at 6:03 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

“Hey, Soul Sister” blared over the intercom. More tears.

I feel her pain.
posted by Paid In Full at 6:03 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

This made me think of when I went off to college. My dad flew with me to New York to get me settled, but we left my mom at home. I remember hugging her goodbye with smiling faces at the airport gate (back when you could actually go all the way to the gate with someone if you weren't flying,) but then turning back one last time to see the tears in her eyes. I'll just never forget that sight. Watching her little girl flying out of the nest...
posted by whitneyarner at 6:09 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Helicopter mom is a helicopter mom, news at 11.
posted by sid at 8:10 AM on August 22, 2012

The empty nest is a very real meme, I am here to tell you.

My daughter left town as soon as she graduated from high school. She hates her home town and wanted to do anything she could to get away and stay away.

We have helped her through a few crises, and although I have told her that if she ever crashes and burns (as I did a few times in my 20's) she can always land back in our house, I would bet that same house that she will never need to.

We may have been over-involved parents, but we raised a very smart, very savvy young woman who we are putting through college and will make some sort of good mark in the world. But it will hurts, a lot, for a few days, every time we see her and then part again.
posted by Danf at 8:15 AM on August 22, 2012

I'm really happy to see my children grow and become the people they're meant to be. I'm also feel sad that they're not the chubby little toddlers who played in the dirt and ran into my arms when I came home from work. I don't seem to get emotional at beginnings (the start of school, the birthdays). It's the endings that get me. The last chorus concert of elementary school, the last baby tooth falling out, the last day of freshman year in high school.

I fully expect to be a sobbing mess when my children leave home, but they will not see that. What I will show them is my pride in them and my excitement for the next stage of their lives. I'll save the tears for the car ride home.
posted by cooker girl at 11:35 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dear Mom:

Sorry to hear that you are bummed. One of the gals here passed on a suggestion: you and Dad should have sex in the living room now that you don't have to worry about a kid hanging around. With your clothes off and everything. Just get down with your bad selves. Don't need to tell me about it, and I'd sort of prefer that you didn't. Repeat in other rooms if necessary; just please clean up after yourselves because I don't want to come home at Thanksgiving and wonder why the kitchen table is so sticky, or whatever.


Your Daughter

P.S. Just not in my bed, because eww.

P.P.S. If I see your helicopter approaching, I'm hauling out the Stinger missile. Totally not kidding.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:47 PM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

The interesting thing about an empty nest is trying to remember: What was it that I used to do?

And then thinking: I can't do THAT!
posted by Twang at 5:16 PM on August 22, 2012

Having co-parented my siblings for only 1-2 years each, I still felt the sting when they left home. Not out of some desire to control them, but out of sadness that I won't see them as much (they're both 7 hours away), and that I'll ultimately stop being a prominent part of their lives.

I suck at calling/Skyping them, we don't email (they're of the texting generation and don't consider long emails a valid form of conversation), and I have yet to "pass through" the town they're both in... so I basically have no contact with them throughout the school year. So yeah, realizing that my sister is going off to university in two weeks makes me sad. I want to be able to help her if she's in trouble or if she's sad, but I know she won't call me. I want to hear about their girlfriends/boyfriends, their friends, their adventures and their heartbreaks... but I don't. It's a shock to go from being around someone essentially 24/7 to only seeing them every 4 months (they only come home for Christmas, some long weekends, not Thanksgiving because going through Toronto is impossible). I miss them a lot.

Of course, I don't tell them this. They're allowed to go off and have fun in a brand new city (like I so desperately wanted to when I started university). I'm just sad we don't get to have ~*family moments*~ anymore.
posted by buteo at 6:52 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dear Mom:

Sorry to hear that you are bummed. One of the gals here passed on a suggestion: you and Dad should have sex in the living room now that you don't have to worry about a kid hanging around.

That's the weirdest thing about this whole article - they still have at least one other kid in the house! I wouldn't blame you for missing the half sentence given to 'my 12 year old asked about x', though.
posted by jacalata at 7:46 PM on August 22, 2012

Yeah, that was just kind of an aside near the end, when she was talking about moving-in day. Must have made the 12-year-old feel real important, tell you what.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:01 PM on August 23, 2012

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