First Bird Leaves Nest (Got a hankie?)

Oldest Son at the Helm


We dropped Oldest Son at college last week, our first to leave home.  As we packed the car early Sunday morning, a young couple entertaining a toddler on their front steps watched our separation unfold.  A perfect moment for me to witness the startling truth of how swiftly 18 years can fly by.  I could show them pictures.    

From this: 

Preschooler in Fridge


to this: 

Teenager in Fridge


And explain how it happens in no time at all.        

But they wouldn’t believe me.  

As we packed the car, I was able to maintain my composure, having unevenly confronted the idea of his departure earlier in the summer.  Packing lists and trips to Target had distracted me from regret.  Occasional loggerheads reminded me it was indeed time for him to paddle his own canoe.  (God invented teenagers for a reason).  Nevertheless, I knew our lives were about to change forever.  Bags were stowed, bicycle tied on top, and the last items crossed off the list.  I was okay.  And might have made it, except he unexpectedly stooped to say goodbye to the family dog.  I immediately reached for my sunglasses.  And put them on.  In the house.  I did not stick around as he woke his sleeping brothers, his best friends in the world, to say goodbye.    

The couple with the toddler went inside.  

I sat in the backseat where I could privately regain composure, wiping tears with my hands.  It occurred to me that the connection a mother feels to a child is not the warm fuzzy thing you normally think of as love, but more like a vital function.  From the minute he had a heartbeat, I was joined to this child for better or worse.  Separating now was like having a vital organ ripped out of me.  While I sat in the backseat facing a future without lungs or kidneys, husband and son talked about bicycle locks and Rangers’ end of season prospects.   

At the university, we hauled his belongings up three flights of stairs (we are a freshman) and admired the private bathroom.  We met the roommate, plugged in the refrigerator, and picked up textbooks.  Undergraduate life is so cool.  I offered to trade places, but by then my son was whistling a happy tune and making plans for the evening.   

I hugged him and watched him walk away (with my lung) until I couldn’t see him anymore. 

On the long ride home, Husband and I discovered an unexpected sense of accomplishment.  Not about the 18 years of parenting, but the enormous transition to college.  From application deadlines to extra-long sheets, it came together in the end.  I confess; we did a happy dance.  And I learned that I will survive, even though some of my vital organs are now living in another part of the state.   

It is a really good thing I have three more of these Birds still living in the nest.


Filed under Cindy Jones, First Reader (aka Husband), launching things, moment of clarity, Motherhood, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers

25 responses to “First Bird Leaves Nest (Got a hankie?)

  1. Susan

    I love the pictures! Some things don’t change and some change alot..Having had the experience of delivering one child to college, I agree it is a heart-rending sense of accomplishment.

  2. jlspsi

    Oh dear. You made me cry. I’m working on launching bird number three this year and it’s breaking my heart. And knowing how time is speeding up, the world is spinning faster and faster, I know bird number four will be gone before I know it. You wrote about this launching thing perfectly, without a touch of sentimentality. Just the facts. Just the truth. Now I know why I have those little holes inside–I have organs walking around in San Marcos, TX and Seattle, WA.

    • Made me cry everytime I worked on it! I don’t know what we’ll do when we get to number 4. But that’s years away, right?

      • jlspsi

        I’m afraid it’s a heart beat away. For me anyway. You can tack on six more years. I only have four left. Regarding Ellen’s comment about “boomerang” children–we’ve experienced that, too. Sometimes the launchings don’t go as planned, but they come back…different. The childhood is just gone. They make us glad they leave by being teenagers and we don’t really want them back, but there is that hole…maybe it gets filled by grandchildren. Don’t want to know if that’s the case since no one is ready to be a parent!

  3. ellenandjim

    As you perhaps noticed, I took my (now) one daughter to her second bout of graduate school a few days ago. NYC. Most unexpectedly, she chose and ended up being accepted to the place I went to for my BA, Queens College.

    So to go back was for me meaningful.

    One of your other correspondents said it will be no time when Bird 4 flies off. In fact Cindy, nowadays they come back (depression, no jobs). I’m not sure it’s the lack of the presence that is so sobering. It’s more we have to fall back on ourselves to create a meaning as older people. Ellen

    • I enjoyed your blog, Ellen. I’ve been hearing about a new developmental stage of life called emerging adulthood that occurs in a person’s 20s. Kids coming home after college, reaching milestones of adulthood, marriage, self-sufficiency on average five years later than a generation ago. (I think my protagonist, Lily, who is 26, is struggling through this stage. She was on her way back to live with her father when her plot twisted).

  4. Susanne Gilmer

    Wonderful photos! Congratulations!! This is the First Great Milestone. Your commentary describing the winged Freshman evoked a not so distant memory…Just sent my SO cool Sophomore off to college solo, with a reminder not to let the concept of “Sophomore Slump” become in any degree influential.

    And that was that! So this becomes easier going forward. He reminded me that medical training is fifteen years inclusive. A long flight ahead! “LOL” S!

  5. Leslie

    My daughter took a piece of my heart with her! And why the private crying? Just bawl it out, like Dan did in the middle of a starbucks store 🙂

    • My “uneven confrontation” is a euphemism for crying through the parent sessions at the new student conference in June and all of our packing sessions for summer job in Northern Tier. At the freshman convocation, I cried everytime they changed the subject. They had a marching band; I didn’t have a chance. I’m sorry I wasn’t at Starbucks, I bet Dan had some tissues.

  6. Great expression of the alacrity of time.

  7. christina

    wow ! you going to make me cry , i remember see him in the hosptial when he was born , wow!

  8. Erin

    Who was it who said that motherhood is walking around with your heart permanently outside your body?
    I look at my tiny giggling girl, my cherubic chum, the little gem I spend every waking minute with, and can’t quite believe how fast it’s going already. She’ll be 5 months on Saturday. Her big brother turns 7 this month and I turned 40 last weekend. It’s also sobering how much faster time flies the older you get.

    • “Making the decision to have a child – It’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”- Elizabeth Stone

      Thank you, Erin. (Google is amazing).

  9. My baby boy left yesterday for his 4th year of University. It’s getting easier to let go now, but it’s not fun that he is so far away and won’t be home until Christmas.
    On a brighter note, my daughter is returning home from finishing her Masters at Leeds University in England. But I only get her for a couple of weeks before she heads off down the highway to her new life.
    Thank goodness for Skype. It has made being apart much easier to take.

  10. I’m glad to hear it gets easier! I rely on information from the front.

  11. Bondi

    Cindy, I think you forgot to put picture #1 up on the site. The one that I never saw but is forever etched in my memory of George on TOP of the refrigerator. Those were the days….! I’m not crying anymore with Austin gone (at least not hourly) but some of me is in DC and I can’t wait for a reunion.

  12. Hah. Some memories are a blur, others complete blank spots, maybe for a good reason!

  13. Ingrid

    Awh! This was cute! Well written! 🙂

  14. Celia

    That was so dear….
    Having a junior at college and a junior at boarding school (jumped the gun on us), I frequently recall my mother telling me: “There are always ‘new firsts’ with children, even when they are emerging adults.”

    There’s just something not very endearing about that first tattoo. And then there ARE those firsts we just as soon not be there for.

    Keep up the good work.

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