During a trip I recently took, I both sent and received the following texts from my friends: “it takes time to get over it”, “there is nothing worse”, “you will have good times and then you will be a crying mess again”. At the same time my daughter sat in the back seat of our car texting her friends and giggling. Later, she answered her phone and I heard her say, “Yeah, both my parents are crying too.”
Thankfully this is nothing as serious as death, divorce, or cancer, but rather the yearly trek that some of us make taking our kids to college…the drop-off.
And if one more person tells me “I’ll be fine” I think I will throw up. Of course I will be fine and I’m hopeful I will love my new life, but I’m not quite ready to be on the road to recovery just yet. I’m thinking of starting a support group like AA for those of us recovering from the drop-off. We could call ourselves DOA – Drop-Off Anonymous. We no longer would have to tear up alone…in the car, in the bathroom, making a bed, hiding our tears behind sunglasses, ashamed and alone. We could all do it together – once a week for as long as it took to get a grip. We would recognize and deal with the stages of recovery. We could have sponsors who are fully recovered and would give us hope.
My youngest left last Thursday for college and I am no longer a sack of drippy emotions. For the last 3 weeks, most of my friends have also been dropping their kids off at various colleges and so we are all in different stages of recovery. We’re like emotional cheerleaders for each other. “Hang in there!” “As long as they’re happy you can be happy!” Nobody really expects to feel happy, but just knowing that we are all being ridiculous (You’re probably thinking“pathetic”) is helpful.
Those of us who have been through the college drop-off before are familiar with the first stage: denial. We knew what the “first timers” were in for and tried to warn them. But like children with no point of reference, they had no idea what they were in for and happily went on their way buying bedding, microwaves, fans, and USB ports. The denial stage made them blissfully unaware of what this spike on their VISA bill really meant. Those of us all too familiar with this stage started with the tears weeks in advance of the actual drop off. We wistfully looked at mom’s walking their young children to school, wondering, where did all the time go?
The depression phase started the last 2 weeks in August when were all walking around in different stages of duress. Everywhere I went I saw women who were usually rushing through Shop Rite in yoga pants, sweaty from their most recent workout of Guns, Buns, and ABs clutching a phone in one hand and a food list in the other, instead, acting sort of weepy and slowly ambling down the aisles. We were like zombies anxiously awaiting THE DATE as it loomed ever closer. “When is your date”, I would ask. “August 15th, August 21st, August 30th” they would mumble. You would think we were sending our kids off to slaughter. Get a grip, I kept telling myself, your new life awaits! My mother to me, “get over it Tracy, you will cry for a week and then you will be fine.” Gee thanks, mom.
It’s been 2 weeks since the drop-off and I’m in the transition phase of my recovery. During this phase the worst is over. You are calmer and go most of the day without tearing up. It helps that I hear from my kids regularly. Texts will come in at 3 in the morning so my sleep is interrupted but I force myself to remember that I love and miss them so much that I don’t mind searching for my glasses, turning on a light, picking up the phone to read, “hey” on my phone. “Hey?’ How do you answer a “hey?” From this profound and well written message I can see that they are up at 3 in the morning, and I tell myself the university library is open 24 hours so I know they are studying. I get pictures of food so I know they are eating, pictures of school mascots and 60,000 of their friends so I know they are getting social interaction. No pictures or texts of getting an education, but I don’t want to dampen their mood.
The side effects are receding and I believe I am into the acceptance phase of my recovery. I am getting used to putting myself first and there is considerably less laundry. I find joy in the fact that my daughter can no longer use the laundry basket as a drawer. The laundry fairy has been freed. It makes me smile that my son, a college senior, has to get up before noon and that it will occur to him (on his own, and not by a nagging parent) that if he wants to stay up till 3 in the morning it may be difficult to function. I practically beam to think that one of the stops in his day is finding time to go grocery shopping. And that guess what? Dinner just doesn’t appear every night at 6:30! Do I sound giddy? You bet.
Please don’t get me wrong. I do miss them…every day. I was never one of those mothers who cheered when the bus came in early September to pick my kids up for their first day of school. But instead of having until 2:30 to do anything for me only, I have until Thanksgiving. I’m doing things I have thought about doing for years. I’m taking a writing course, I’m volunteering, and I’m only doing the food shopping once a week! But the best thing about being home alone is the fact that my husband and I no longer say to ourselves…can we do this? Because, YES WE CAN! We saw the Eagles in Atlantic City and then Madonna at Yankee Stadium and we didn’t have to worry about who was home or who may need us. As a matter of fact, upon getting home at 3 in the morning I did something I’ve always wanted to do…I texted my kids, “hey!” Recovery is sweet.