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How I Really Feel About Launching My Kid to College

Here we are, the eve of college launch. By the time most of you read this, we will be College Station bound and I will be on the other side of taking my oldest to college. By then, my station in motherhood will have changed and I’m sure I’ll have some wisdom to share. Either that, or I’ll have a tube of waterproof mascara and some tissues to lend you.

But first, before any of that happens, I wanted to share how I’m feeling now (and many other mamas I know), on the eve of college launch, before those feelings get glossed over by life. If, for no other reason, than perspective which I will surely have gained four months from now, at Christmas break. At least that’s what the college moms tell me.

The accounts of conflicted feelings are true – one minute you want to hang on to your kid forever and your mind is filled with nothing but happy memories and the next you want to string them up by their toenails and shout: Good luck, I hope you figure it out! Add in some excitement, trepidation, worry, anxiety, happiness and emotion and that’s pretty much the range of things we feel about every ten minutes.

The big things have been way easier than I imagined. The last first day of school, cap and gown photos, prank day, prom, graduation – they were all filled with so much excitement and joy. It was the small moments in between those smiling Instagram photos that wrecked me. I was usually blindsided and never saw them coming until my eyes would fill up with tears.

Just last week, as I was gathering up all our towels to wash, a younger sibling said, “Well, you won’t have to wash Will’s towels next year.” Just as the tears formed, he followed it with, “It’s okay though, we have pictures of Will. We won’t forget him.” Kids. Am I right?

In order to have a new beginning, we have to embrace the ending. It’s the embrace that I find so terribly conflicting. It’s holding my heart in my hands and feeling it break and burst with pride, simultaneously.

Tonight, we had our last family dinner. The soon-to-be college freshman asked for steak and baked potatoes. Well played, Mr. I’m about to be eating dorm food every day. And then it was bedtime for the younger set. My kindergartner waited to turn out the lights until she got her evening hug from big brother. And my eyes caught Will’s. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. Please God, don’t let it be over. Don’t let the things I’ve come to take for granted be ending. Please let what we did, how much we prayed, the memories we made, the lessons we taught – let them be enough.

Will shut the door and I rocked his sister to sleep, with one of her hands resting on my heart and the other on my cheek. Reality finally hit me like a ton of bricks. My day-to-day parenting game is over. I’m now just an adviser in his life, no longer the captain.

When you’re in the trenches of raising babies, it feels like the season will last indefinitely. You’ll be changing diapers and putting people in timeout, yelling for someone to come unload the dishwasher or finish up homework for like 75 years. And then you aren’t.

But lest you think this is the post where I tell you to savor it all. That the years go by fast even though the days are long. This where I tell you, and me, that this letting go is what we get to do.

We are alive and loving our children. We get to send them to college and out into the world. Our kids are launching and finding their wings. They get to grow up. And, God willing, we get to watch it all happen. Because somewhere, there’s a mom who has no child to rock, no bags to pack, and no tuition bill to pay. And I’m betting she would trade her heartache for yours.

Tomorrow, somehow and some way, I will hug my teenager and allow myself to feel the feelings – the hard ones and the easy ones – and I will be grateful. I will be grateful for all the mistakes we’ve made and pray we learned from them. I will be grateful he’s in a place that’s sure to shape him into a man. I will be grateful that he’s about to meet his life friends, the ones he invites to his wedding and keeps forever. I will be grateful that Aggieland is only two hours away. And I will be grateful to be his mom.

If there’s any true and abiding lesson I’ve learned from 18 years of motherhood, it’s this: it just gets better. I have to believe the moms who are ahead of me are telling me the truth. The best really is coming.

The time has come for me to pack up all those precious lasts and fix my gaze, and my heart, on a whole new season of firsts. But first, pass the Kleenex please.

16 Comments

  1. Mary on August 14, 2019 at 8:11 am

    Wow. Thank you for sharing so deeply from the heart (as you always do!). <3

    • Karen on August 14, 2019 at 8:44 am

      The BEST is yet to come! Trust God!!
      ❤️❤️❤️

  2. Ingrid on August 14, 2019 at 8:18 am

    I might be crying now…..I’ll be praying for you. xo

  3. Verdina on August 14, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Wow, Kathryn! You’ve brought this old lady to tears, once again!
    You’ve got this, Mama!
    God bless Will and God bless you all!

  4. Kristi Speights on August 14, 2019 at 8:53 am

    Well, you made me cry with the line about the ladies with no kids trading their heartache for yours. Absolutely true.

    I’ll be praying big prayers for Will and for you and Scott. Love y’all so much.

  5. Nicole on August 14, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Oh boy. I totally remember my mom and dad when they dropped me off at college. I was the first to go away. It didn’t hit ME until they closed the door on my dorm room that I was AWAY from them. I talked to my dad a few days later (pre-cellphones and long distance was $$$), and he told me my mom didn’t say a word on the 90 min drive home. His thought was that she had so much to process, she didn’t know what to say or do.

    We have a few years before we enter this chapter, and it will be here in a blink. I’m not sure how that’s possible since I remember ALL the feels of going to college for the first time. Thank you for taking us on the ride with you and sharing your experience.

  6. Rozella on August 14, 2019 at 9:01 am

    You got this! I think I mentioned before when we dropped off our oldest, I was too happy for her to be sad. No tears. It wasn’t until she went back to school after winter break that I cried! I think I cried because I knew how empty the house was going to be again with her gone. I knew that feeling. 😢

  7. Carla Erickson on August 14, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Kathryn, I love reading your thoughts on taking Will to college! I am still in disbelief he could be that old! Your relationship with your child is headed to a new phase- adulthood! You can only hope and pray that what you have taught him he will remember. Your job up until this time has been to prepare him to launch! Successfully! Will is an amazing young man, and he will do you proud! I am prejudiced, of course, as his godmother! Know that I pray for all of you everyday! Looking forward to seeing you soon!
    La

  8. Christine Mitchell on August 14, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    I just dropped off my baby at daycare for the first time last week so those feels are hitting me too. But you’re right that this heartache is much better than the pain of longing and we are blessed to “get” to do this! At least you know he’s going to the best place. Gig em!

  9. Carla Erickson on August 14, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Kathryn, I love hearing your thoughts on taking Will to college! Everything you have done in parenting him, has been leading up to this moment! He is an amazing person, but then I am prejudiced! You are embarking on the next phase- your relationship with your child as an adult! It does get better! I pray for all of you daily! You have done a good job! Now comes the part where you back off some, and see what amazing things your child can do!
    Love y’all ! La

  10. Karen on August 14, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Right there with you & sending hugs! Praying for you today that it is all it’s meant to be – the hard & the good! Tomorrow we depart for Boston and Sunday we say goodbye. I’ve already got my waterproof mascara & kleenex packed. 😉 Feeling my heart break and burst at the same too! Tho’ trying to focus on the bursting part. 😉 And being grateful for the blessing of these boys in our lives and the amazing young men they are becoming! Love to you & Will!!

  11. Ann Finch on August 14, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Katherine, I love your insights and the heartfelt comments! I am looking forward to seeing you in Amarillo on your tour. I have ordered my book and some extras for gifts and anticipate lots of joy as I read it. Thank you for being you!

  12. Erin on August 14, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    I’m not crying… you are crying. Actually we are all crying 😢. Thank you for reminding me to hang on to the next four years and take those moments to savor the routine and family time that we certainly take for granted. Still crying ….

  13. Rebecca Tovar on August 15, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    Sending prayers!
    You made me cry!
    Sending Big Hugs!
    Love ya!

  14. Jen Niemann on August 16, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Every time I have one of “these” moments I remember the best thing my momma ever said to me…”I may have tears, but they are happy tears”!

    From the first step onto a school bus to the step onto the college campus and SO MANY in-between…most have been happy tears as my kiddos take steps to adulthood. We are raising Adults, not Kids. Happy tears help!!!

  15. Pamela on August 16, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    I’m 9 years away from sending one off the college, so I got something totally different out of your post.

    Rocking your kindergartener to sleep, LMAO! I just sent my soon to be middle child (due any day with #5) to kindergarten. I’m sure you remember those days. She gets a hug and probably yelled at on the way to bed. Just glad to know I might manage to be that sweet to one kid someday!

    I totally understand why you baby the baby of the family, but I’m so not there yet!

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