Every year we mothers face the dreaded first day of school. This year it happened for the last time: yesterday we took our youngest son to college. It was a long, exhausting day divided between the university, his new apartment, the bank, MacDonalds, and a number of stores. That didn’t include the ‘Welcome to College’ convocation in the evening, followed by a hot dog-chips-and-soda meal. ( I was really craving a salad or some steamed green beans by that point.) Our son was excited and nervous, eager to say goodbye to his over-anxious parents and get on with the great business of being a college student. He and his new roommate hit it off and even had a few things in common. Finally, we hugged him goodbye and made the long drive back home. It was a very long drive.
The first day of school is hard every time it happens, from kindergarten on up. On one hand, you’re thrilled that your children are progressing, maturing, and moving on with their lives. You’re happy for them, for the new adventures that await them and the tremendous opportunity to learn. On the other hand, you are anxious (way more than they are). What if’s crowd your thoughts as you give out last minute advice that sails right on by their already overloaded minds. You wonder if they will eat right (Do fruit pop tarts count as being in the fruit and vegetable group?), and will they get to the bus stop on time? More than just the physical concerns is the feeling of being bereft. You’ve lost your fun companion, the kid you spent so many hours with, playing games, working together, talking, helping with problems, crying and praying over, laughing and joking with. It reminds me of an episode from Mork and Mindy (a sci-fi TV sitcom from the late 70s), where Mindy goes off to do something, leaving Mork (the alien) in the house, and he looks out the window, crying and lonely. For mothers, this is a time of upheaval and adjustment. But as James A. Owen reminded me in his excellent book, Drawing out the Dragons, we have a great destiny ahead of us, bounded only by the choices we make. “I believe every one of us has something that’s very unique to us specifically… our point of view …no one else has your particular combination of thoughts, and dreams, and hopes, and desires, and ambitions, and memories, and experiences. No one. And I beilieve that every once in a while, the Universe opens itself up to you — and you alone — and shows you something that no one else is going to understand. You have to decide in that moment how much you believe in what you have seen.” (pg. 64-65) We can decide to follow our dream. When James Owen speaks to groups of middle-grade children, he tells them that he believes “they can do anything they choose to do in this life, and it doesn’t matter how old they are. All that matters is if they have the desire and determination to put in the effort required to be good at what they do.” (pg. 32) I take that to heart, even if I’m on the other end of the age spectrum from his middle-grade audience. I am embarking on a new voyage. Instead of dwelling on how unsettled I feel, I’m going to plunge in headfirst and see where the river runs. There may be rocks and rapids ahead, but there also will be magnificent dragons, and maybe a unicorn or two. It will be a great adventure.