It’s move-in time at my son’s college this weekend.

Thanks to all of you who wrote me emails I know I am not the only parent who’s a hot mess right now.

LC Van Savage, mother of three very grown-up sons, kept it short and to the point:

“First of all, you cry and cry and cry and cry.

“Then you cry and cry and cry.

“Next time you cry and cry.

“And then you cry.

“And lastly, you begin to eyeball his room as a possible den/TV room/studio/guest room/woman cave.”

Yes, I’ve done a lot of crying this summer. When I took all three boys to the dentist for their annual cleaning in June, a ritual of at least 15 years? I sat in the waiting room muffling my sobs in People magazine.

Kelly Doyle, of Bristol, who wrote me a five-page handwritten letter, says the crying doesn’t stop once they leave for college. Her son left in 2008.

“No matter how well he did in college, no matter that he came home for the summer, every time he left again, was painful. I couldn’t even watch him drive out of my driveway. I would start crying days before I knew he was going back.”

She came up with a creative way to cope by making a rug out of her son’s old T-shirts.

“It calmed me and it gave me purpose,” she wrote.

There are all sorts of crafty ideas on Pinterest for repurposing childhood clothes.

(Did I mention I have a box of my son’s baby clothes in the attic? Sometimes I open it and bury my face in the pile of onesies and overalls, inhaling the faint scent of Dreft.)

Amelia Jenkins, of Damariscotta, wrote, “I’m 72, with three grown sons, all 40 and older now. I was a very happy mom back in the day, and completely sympathize with your trouble in letting go … I still remember the months of aching for each one as he left; the sadness was almost palpable. I don’t think there’s any way to avoid that, but it does get better with time.”

That’s good to know. Maybe I’ll be a Pro Let Goer by the time the last kid goes to college. I’ll probably keep you posted because this is the kind of thing I wish more parents talked about.

Christine Shea, of Mount Vernon, agreed.

“I’m not sure why we don’t hear more about this stage from parents (especially mothers), but I have felt alone in this, too.

“People talk about the empty nest, but this isn’t quite that, is it? … You reinvent yourself when you become a mother and then spend decades taking care, scheduling, loving, and enjoying your family and they GO? I get it, but that’s pretty harsh!”


When Patti Silva, of Bath, sent her second daughter to college, there was an added layer of pain.

“Her father, my husband had passed away two weeks before she was to report to school,” Patti wrote. “I told my daughter she could wait if she needed to. My in-laws were another story. They quickly reminded her that it was what her father would want her to do. They even travelled from New York to Maine to drive with us up to Machias.

“She hardly spoke during that four-hour drive … When I dropped her off at school, my heart ached for her. When she told me that she was so upset that ‘Daddy isn’t here,’ there were tears on both our parts.

“We said our goodbyes. I drove home. I was completely and utterly alone. But my daughter had the strength to start another milestone in her life.

“She is going to be a junior this year. She showed me that the love we gave her was her strongest foundation. That we raised her to be a strong, independent woman.”
I’ve read Patti’s letter a few times now. It never fails to make me cry.

How do you know until you let them go what resources they have inside them?

Somehow my son will figure it out. But I have to admit that when Bob Kalish told me the story of one of his friend’s college drop off, I could totally identify with his friend’s mother, who stood outside a lecture hall waving a brown bag lunch in the window.

There but for the grace of … all the wisdom you shared … go I.

Michele Near, from the lakes region of New Hampshire, was visiting the Midcoast when she picked up the Coastal Journal. I love it when I hear from people who stumble upon the CJ while vacationing here.

Two of her children had already launched when it was time to let go of the third one, a son who would attend MIT.

“I’m not sure how a mother can possibly convey how uniquely special each of their children are … Billy was my daily friend. We did chores together, learned Suzuki violin, explored yard sales, baked, read my Martha Stewart magazine the day it arrived to comment on the beautiful colors and pictures, softly whispered night-time rituals … good night, I love you, see you in the morning, pleasant dreams.

“I couldn’t imagine living without all that every day … In the end, we spoke more than I had anticipated and visited frequently – I would drive down after work to watch him play hockey at 8 p.m., just so I could hug him before he went on the ice and again before he went in the locker room after the game.

“The moments are less frequent these days, but they are rich — phone calls during his work commute, flowers and cards with meaningful words he’s handwritten, hiking the White Mountains each fall on my birthday. Every so often, I get him and his siblings back under my roof, safe. The joy is immeasurable.

“While I still feel sadness at the loss of their childhood and daily presence, seeing where college has led the four people I put on this earth and watching them thrive more than makes up for the letting go.”

I’m looking forward to watching what unfolds for my son, and his siblings as they grow into their launching times.

I talked about “their generation” in a column a couple of weeks ago. It may not have been entirely clear, since their generation causes me as much head scratching as anyone else over 40, but I expect these kids — yours, mine, all of them — will do great things.

Who knows? They may even save the world.

Meanwhile, I’ll get busy turning my son’s room into his step-brother’s new digs. Maybe I’ll make a quilt out of his theater hoodies.

And about that brown bag lunch …