Mom has hard time as son flies the coop

August 23, 2012|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

Tonight, when my son told me goodnight and hugged me, I cried.

Not like I wiped a tear from my eye. More like, if you were an onlooker, you might have thought he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

There had been no such calamity. The etiology of my tears was the impending onset of higher education. A week from today, he leaves for college, one that is six hours away.

Yeah, I know. It's tragic, right? My offspring has been accepted to the institution of his choice where he'll have the option to build relationships, discover passions, develop maturity, grow in knowledge and likely increase his marketability and earning potential. Pity.

I am at odds with myself. I value learning. I spent my son's early days rolling a ball along an alphabet frieze and giving him props for naming as many words as he could that began with the letter it landed on. I am the mom who spent hours helping him craft the many horns of a Euoplocephalus of homemade, food-colored dough on my cookie sheet and loved it. I'm the kind of person who thinks writing a comprehensive analysis of Aristotle's coercive system of tragedy is a great time and who wants my kids to think so, too.

So now that my son is headed off to carry on his learning at a well-regarded institute, why am I such a wreck? I'd always heard of sending kids off to college as being a painful hit to the pocketbook. Even kids who have scholarships need money for books, money to live. But early into the experience as I am, I'm feeling an emotional whack far more than a financial one.

For weeks now, maybe months, I've been stuffing it. It seems like so many high school graduates go to college, it can't be that big a deal. I should be able to roll with it. When I looked up statistics on the issue, it proved my point. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2011, nearly 70 percent of that year's high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities. So why am I feeling so sentimental?

First off, I'm sure the six hours doesn't help. Secondly, I've asked around some, and it turns out I'm not alone. For example, I spoke with a mom today — a rational, balanced kind of mom — who said she was a basket case when her first child went to college.

"I dropped him off and cried all the way home. All the way. My husband didn't know what to do. I kept crying for a week straight. Just plan on it," she advised.

She said I'd eventually get used to it, and that it would get a little better with the next child. Her words gave me relief, hope that I've not lost my mind.

After all, this child lived in my very body. I'd watch the mass of my stomach rise and fall from one side to the other as he rolled from left to right and right to left. I'd see a plum-sized area of my flesh protrude as he pushed from inside me toward the world and I'd try to guess whether it was his fist or his heel.

Now he is pushing out into the world again, only this time he is no longer an infant. He is a young man. And he is not coming out of my body and into my arms, but he is going out of my home and out of my influence, 328 miles away.

My musings are different, scarier than whether I am seeing a fist or a heel. What kind of choices will he make? Will he spend time with people who lift him up? Will he use what I've taught him?

When he innocently told me goodnight and I blubbered like a fool, his response encouraged me. He let me hug him until I regained my dignity and composure. Then he smiled at me, not in a laughing way, but like he was glad that I love him so incredibly much.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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