Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Mom matriculation. Have you heard of this? No? Yeah, I just made it up. Its definitely the hardest part of motherhood. It’s the culmination of the letting go that begins with senior year and just when you think its at its hardest, graduation, you unlock a new, unfathomable level of mom heartbreak… college drop off day. Bella is ready to launch but I’m not ready to let go. I don’t know if I ever told you guys the story of how I was supposed to go to Boston University, but, about 2 weeks before I was supposed to leave, 4 little words from my dad stopped me dead in my tracks, “See you next summer.” What??? Immediate failure to launch..
I had never even spent 1 single night away from my parents because in Mexican culture we just don’t do that. Due to our strong multi-generational family ties, family is not only a big part of who we are, it’s everything. My dad’s words had great emotional power over me, in fact, more power than anyone else’s. Not in an intentional manipulative way, its just that his words have always landed like concrete on my heart. His opinion always mattered, and still matters, the most to me. I’ve always held a tiny grudge about this. But that was all before I was the parent having to let go of my own, precious child. Now, I definitely get it, but, I refuse to do that to my girls. Even if it kills me, in the process.
I thought it was all overkill, until I got my first pangs of impending mom matriculation.
Due to this particular incident, and knowing how it completely altered my timeline and changed the trajectory of my life, I swore I’d never say or do anything to hinder my own children’s flight pattern. But again, that was before I knew what I know; that was before I was the parent in the scenario sending my own precious child off into the world, alone, without me.
Fast forward to 10 years ago, when my oldest nephew was heading off to college, a “mere” 65 minutes away from home. Back before I realized that whether it’s 25 minutes or 65 minutes or 12 hours away, living away from your child is actually the same distance in mom miles because out of your house means out of your house. Your child is no longer bounding through the house, randomly hugging you and asking for a Starby’s run while blasting Swiftie or Megan thee Stallion, while you all sing to your heart’s content.
I vividly remember my nephew going away to college, instantly regretting his decision and my brother and sister-in-law immediately agreeing to pick him up and bring him back home, regardless of forfeiting his athletic scholarship. Absolutely without hesitation, they agreed. In my naivate, I was actually disappointed in their decision ( as if it were any of my business) and really couldn’t understand why they hadn’t encouraged him to stay a little while longer.
None of the baby books warn you about the pain of college drop off. No one warned me that launching my child into adulthood would feel like part of my own body was being ripped away.
When I started Purdue University, a ” mere” 3 hours from home, I remember in those first few weeks sitting alone in my dorm room feeling that it was the winter of my discontent. Wishing someone, anyone, would come to my rescue and demand I return home. But that never happened and, in the end, everything worked out. I learned how to navigate life without my parents, eventually became adult-ish and had a terribly good time doing it. After the situation with my nephew, it reaffirmed my belief that I would “never” do what my brother and his wife did. Big words from a mom of elementary schoolers. That was before I was the mom of a college freshman about to matriculate herself out of my orbit.
If you thought labor and delivery was the hardest part of motherhood, hold on to your Lulus because the mental anguish of letting go makes child birth feel like a cake walk and that’s coming from a woman who did it unmedicated.
Bella decided last spring to defer acceptance to her first choice college and attend a private liberal arts college nearer to home her first year. She realized after several college visits that she prefers the intimate vibe of a smaller campus over a huge bustling one. She decided that she wanted 1 more year at home. I greedily accepted her decision. The school happens to be 25 minutes from my front door. Then, she decided to live at home this year, instead of on campus. Again, I greedily and whole-heartedly accepted her decision. Next year, she has every intention on transferring to her first choice. In fact, it’s already being carefully planned and coordinated with that prestigious university. They are happily awaiting her transfer and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, 356 days from today she’s fully spreading her wings and flying away.
Those of you who have already survived mom matriculation, the hardest part of motherhood thus far, and are letting go when every single cell in your body wants to hold on for dear life… you are so strong.
I know many of you have dropped your babies off at college in the past couple of days and weeks and have driven away sobbing as you bravely left your hearts on campus. I’ve been watching your posts and feeling those pangs of motherly heartbreak right along with you, mostly for you. But now, something strange has started to happen, I’m getting very overwhelmed and feeling very anxious in anticipation of my impending turn to let go. Fuck, I really don’t want to. ( I’m only saying this here because I can never utter the words “Don’t go” that my heart is screaming inside my head.) Just as I’m sure, none of you wanted to. I wanted to be cool about all of this but I’m realizing that I’m probably going to be the uncoolest about it.
This Friday is move in day for students living on campus at Bella’s school and also, the matriculation ceremony and banquet for freshman, kicking off a weekend long “welcome to campus” extravaganza. While Bella is not moving on campus, as if graduation itself was not the signal of the end… the matriculation ceremony is here to put a fine point on the fact that your child is no longer yours but almost, completely autonomously their own.
So while she’s still technically here, she’s really there. I know that just like on the day she was born and everything changed, on Friday everything changes again and in 356 days… everything changes forever. No matter how tight my mama heart wants to hold on to the most precious thing in my world, I know I have to let go. And at a time when all I want to do is hold her closer and cling to her more tightly (maybe more than ever), I have to gently push her away with a smile and encouragement, while convincing her that I’m fine and it’s all going to be amazing, because for her, it will be and that’s all that matters right now.
College drop off feels sort of like we’re heading into this weird parent-child purgatory where we’re both growing, letting go and being let go of, it’s by far the hardest part of motherhood.
Then, I’ll have to hug her, a hug that I know will need to sustain me for weeks or months (this child of mine, who I’ve hugged and kissed several times a day since her existence, who I’ve shared everything with) and I have to release her as mine as she runs towards who she’s meant to be. And I have to do it with grace and unconditional love because this is about her, not me. This is the beginning of her beautiful journey. Then, I’ll have to drive away leaving my child behind, seeing her walking towards her future in the rear view mirror as I become more of her past than her future. If this isn’t the hardest part of motherhood, I don’t know what is and I don’t want to know.
This starts Friday. I can already feel it. I’ve felt the pangs and waves of letting go all summer. I don’t know how I’ll survive my mom matriculation, especially, since I have to do college drop off this Friday, then again next August and then again the following year for my youngest. I know I will survive. Because now I know, living 25 minutes or 12 hours away from your child is actually the same distance in mom miles because in your heart is in your heart and no amount of time or distance can separate the bond between a child and their parent.
No matter how near or far she flies away, I’ll always just be a phone call, text, car or plane ride away and this is how we survive college drop offs and new beginnings, her and us…mostly us. This is why I smile for her while my heart completely breaks for me. This is how we survive the hardest part of motherhood… the letting go.
I’m seriously thinking of starting a mom support group for middle-aged, perimenopausal moms who’ve had to send their children off to college and are trying to survive the letting go. If you want in this mom matriculation posse, let me know. We’ll get through this college drop off, suffer being left behind next chapter of our lives together. Freedom is not what its all cracked up to be. Why didn’t the baby books warn us about this bullshit?