Sometime in the middle of August, for as long as I can remember, I have woken up on one particularly steamy day with butterflies in my stomach. The day that is the equivalent to Christmas for admission counselors the world over—Move-in Day.
After 25 years of meeting scared, awkward high school juniors and watching them transition to seniors and then excited, nervous college freshmen, I’ve had my share of Move-in Days. I’ve hugged crying moms and dads, wished new students well, shared a laugh and a drink and a story and then, the following morning, started the process all over again.
Usually, my day consists of walking through residence halls, reading the fresh door decs and looking for the names of “my kids.” But this year was different. This year, the door dec belonged to MY KID. My Andrew is now a college freshman.
While I may have had an edge over the other freshman parents in terms of what to expect and where to park and how to find my way across campus, for the rest of the day I was just like anyone else.
I made his bed. I assessed what else the room needed. I handed him Command hooks so he could hang up his Bruins flag. Took him to Target and IKEA. He moved in the day before his roommate Paul, so when they got into town after their 10 hour drive from Connecticut, we met him and his parents for dinner.
Since Andrew didn’t want to sleep in the dorm the first night alone, he came back to the hotel with us. Everything was fine. Fine, that is, until I woke up the next morning, saw him sleeping and came face to face with the truth: I had to leave him here.
That’s the paradox, right? When I present at junior nights, I often tell parents that the college search is the time to be the mama bird and to use it to ensure that baby bird has wings that work; to push them out of the nest just a little bit and see what happens. Well, let me tell you. That Thursday morning, I stood on the edge of my proverbial nest and looked into a chasm deeper and wider than I could have imagined. How could I possibly let that bird of mine fly into that unknown?
But I, like millions of parents before me, gave that last push: we had lunch, made one last trip off campus to the J Crew Outlet (his belt was five hours away and he didn’t want his shorts to fall down at orientation) and then walked him back to his dorm room.
I’d love to say I had some amazingly wonderful words of advice to give him, but I didn’t. I just hugged him and told him I loved him. Told him to dream big dreams. Told him to make good choices. And then I couldn’t say much more so I wouldn’t lose it completely.
And that was that.
The next day, back at home, I found myself wandering aimlessly. There was nothing left to pack or wash. There were no frantic trips to Target or friends dropping by. It was just quiet.
And in that quiet, I realized another truth. Yes, our jobs are all about helping our students find the right next place. But more than that, our jobs are about hope. Whether we are parents or counselors, we encourage the hopes of our students as we have our own hopes for them: that they will have an easy transition; that they will make friends; that they will wear their darn mask and wash their hands; that they learn something inside the classroom and out. Nothing is guaranteed, but we hope that we have provided them with the tools and resources to soar beyond their cozy nest and into a world that is waiting for them and who they might become.
Now, a week and a half later, I’m getting used to the quiet. The first (and second) care packages have been mailed. I am confident that he’s in the place he is supposed to be, as documented, in the archive of the Gen Zen: by text message:
“I bought a planner today.”
“What’s our Xfinity password?”
“Met a cool guy from Cleveland and a guy from Seattle.”
“French is a little shaky. I’m gonna meet with my teacher tomorrow.”
“Practice was good. The captains are super helpful. Everyone was coming up to me asking my name.”
“My Oral Comms teacher is hilarious. He taught at Oxford.”
“I miss you mom.”
We’ve always had a pretty awesome relationship, Andrew and I, but like any parent, I’m constantly torn between looking back at the little person he once was, loving the young man he is now, and anxiously awaiting the person he will become. This is just one more step in the journey, and now, having left MY KID in a dorm room 300 miles from home, I’m approaching my work with a little more introspection and empathy.
So next summer, when I make my rounds in the residence halls, I’ll have one more reason to savor the day. Yes, I’ll check out the door decs and laugh and hand over tissues. Yes, I’ll share my tips for maximizing closet space and direct people to the recycle bins. But I’ll also remember the fourth floor of Beckman Hall in August of 1987, and rolling my eyes at my mom as she couldn’t stop hugging me. And I will also remember being in “The Pit” at Brockman Hall in August of 2020, and finding a reason to give Andrew just one more hug. And as unsure as I felt both of those days, they are both part of my story: one I can share with families from now until I hang up my travel bag.