The day I REALLY understood what I was asking of my clients.
On January 15, 2022, I moved my older son into his college dorm for the very first time.
His first semester of college started on this bitter cold January day. He had to have surgery the prior Fall and that led to deferring a semester of college. (A successful surgery. He’s totally fine now.)
My boy was excited, and nervous, that day anticipating the move. I could tell that he was trying to hide that nervous feeling from me. I got him on that point. I was resisting balling my eyes out in front of him.
Later that day, I was very grateful that my son is such a minimalist. It didn’t take long to move all of his belongings into the dorm room and, holy crap, was it ever cold outside.
So we drop everything into his room, and we’re all kind of standing there — me, my husband, and my younger son (age 14.)
And my first-born baby boy — who frequently reminds me now that he’s a legal adult — says, “I think I can unpack my things on my own, guys.”
There was nothing else to do. And, for a moment, it was just. . so. . .quiet.
COVID required a phased move-in, so there were no loud hallways filled with 18 year-olds and their reluctant parents.
There was just an RA with a mask, and us. Just standing there. The RA departs after she introduces herself to my son. She has things to do, and her own mother somewhere worrying about her, I suppose.
We are certainly not going to walk around campus today. There are no orientation events to which parents are invited. I mean, we are in the middle of the academic year, not to mention a worldwide pandemic.
I think to myself, “it’s better this way. Don’t linger. Just go. You’re done paving this runway for now, and you just have to step away and let the airplane take off.”
I hear myself telling my boy to hug his little brother. He does. Then he hugs his dad, and holds on a little bit longer than I expected him to.
That really got me. I felt the lump rising in my throat and wondered if I’d be able to breathe long enough to walk out of there on my own.
Then it was my turn for a goodbye hug. I told him I know that I am limited on the number of times I can contact him, but he has no limits on contacting me. Anytime, it doesn’t matter when. He nodded slowly. “Good,” I thought. He’s listening.
Then I told him how he was always an old soul. I knew this from the moment he was born. I reminded him to access that wisdom when it was time to choose between the shitty option that seemed easier in the moment, and the harder one that would serve him long-term.
And then I hugged him, and walked back to my car. I realized later that I didn’t even take any pictures.
So I feel you now, parents, in a way that I guess I could not possibly have before that day.
You are called upon to make a transition with your children. You must leave them in circumstances where you no longer control exactly where and when they will lay their heads down at night.
I feel your sadness now, and your fear of leaving the cave that was your life before this phase.
Sometimes, I coach my clients on how they are creating their own feelings, and help them see a way to choosing better-feeling thoughts.
Other times, I show them how to just stay in the current feeling. To breathe it in. To just feel it and let it be there.
“It may come in waves,” I say. “Then it will dissipate. Then the next wave.
Remember, feeling the feeling can’t hurt you.
The action you take to resist or avoid the feeling might hurt you, but not feeling the feeling by itself.
Just let it be there. Nothing has gone wrong."
Sadness, fear — even grief, the kind you feel when you know things are changing in a permanent way — these feelings are part of our human experience.
And when you’re in it, my friends, your brain is going to tell you to run. Just get us the f@$!ck out of here.
And I’m asking you to say “it’s okay brain. We can just feel this.”
That’s some real freaking heavy lifting that I’m asking of you, isn’t it?
And that is my work now that my own child has moved away. Shit.
I get you now. I really do.
I’m asking a lot of you.
I’m asking a lot of me.
This is some very hard work we are doing, but I know this to be true -- it is hard work that is worth doing. And we are all most definitely worth doing the hard things.
Talk to you soon, friends. You take good care until then.