Sunday, May 22, 2011

Freshman Year - A Mom's Retrospective


In the blink of an eye, Katie's freshman year of college is over. She came home last Saturday and it's so hard to wrap my mind around the fact that her first year of college is over. Incredible.

In the week or so leading up to her homecoming, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my experience over the course of the last 9 months. The range of emotions and my experience adjusting to this new stage of parenting is incredibly varied.

The first two weeks were spent in perpetual thought of her. I was constantly thinking of reasons to call her. I found myself on her Facebook page (something I hadn't done much of in the past) just to see if I could glean any information about what her days were like. And when I did find something I obsessed about whether I should comment. Would she think I was stalking her (I was) or would she feel bad that her mom wasn't wishing her good luck on her first college math test? What to do? I was wracked with indecision and angst. It was a rough two weeks. The good news is that she called and texted often. So I did have a sense of how she was doing. The bad news is that a lot of our conversations were about things that were worrying or upsetting her. So then I was worried and upset. And of course by the time we next spoke, the crises was long over - for her. That was difficult lesson to learn.

After the first couple of weeks, I really felt that I had adjusted to having my first child out of the nest. But I was wrong. Without realizing it, I was a total wreck. I knew I felt a little "off" and I craved a retreat of some sort, but I wasn't connecting it to Katie's departure. I was fortunate enough to arrange a week long getaway in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. I went with a friend in a similar situation and we spent our time in quiet contemplation and exploration of the surrounding area. We even spent one night taking turns talking about issues that were weighing on our minds. It felt good to get it all out. But my real relief came after my friend left (she had to get back) and I had a day and a half to myself. I drove to the top of a mountain, hoping to climb the observation tower for a view of the valley. The tower was closed for the season (it was late October), but I decided to explore a little on my own. After walking around a bit, I sat on a low stone wall, overlooking the valley below and without warning all my emotions rushed to the surface and I began to quietly weep - releasing all the pent up emotion of the previous weeks and even months of Katie's leave taking. Another solo visitor saw me sitting there and approached me and asked me if she could pray with me. Not being a religious person, I politely declined her heartfelt and generous offer. But her care and concern touched me deeply. Despite my lack of religious belief, I do believe she was there for a reason. I will never forget that moment or her kindness. It was certainly a defining moment for me.

And it wasn't just I who was changing. Thanksgiving was a difficult visit for Katie and me. She was difficult and demanding and I regretted the tone of that visit. I was apprehensive as winter break approached. Five weeks is a long time. I hoped it would not be a repeat of Thanksgiving. And it wasn't. I noticed in change in Katie. She was less combative and more cheerful. It was a great visit. And each subsequent visit - a weekend in February, spring break in March and Easter weekend - proved to be fairly positive. Still I was concerned about summer. Three months is a long time. Could we all live harmoniously? It's a big transition to live on your own at college to re-assimilating back into family life. Would it go smoothly? Would we all be at odds with each other? How would the family dynamic change? Would it change?

I think it's too soon to answer these questions. The first few days that Katie was home I noticed a concerted effort on her part to be amenable and cheerful. It seemed as though perhaps she had grown up some while away at college. But signs of our old tensions and struggles are starting to appear now. I sense her struggling to fit back into the new family dynamic that has emerged while she has been away. I can tell she feels a little out of place. I am struggling with this. How do I make the necessary adjustments that she seems to require, when I'm unable to anticipate or recognize what she wants from me? And what if what she wants is unrealistic? I think there are more adjustments to be made as I navigate this new stage in parenthood. Perhaps I'm going to have to find another mountaintop to visit before the summer is over.


11 comments:

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"I sense her struggling to fit back into the new family dynamic that has emerged while she has been away."

What a very thoughtful essay this is, Pam. The senior years of high school are most angst providing and their leaving such a milestone in our lives. Then they come home for that first summer.

All I can say after surviving two freshman summer homecomings - and now in a third - is go about your way. Life has changed with her absence. That's how it is supposed to be. Set up your rules for her - much simpler then when she lived there, but now a matter of respect - and go forward in your new life. You've worked hard to create it and focus on your child still home. Oldest daughter will grow up even more this summer and you will welcome her return to school. Just the way it goes. Natural order.

Take good care, my friend. Truly lovely piece.

Mrs. Tuna said...

The first summer back with my daughter was difficult. Her wanting to grow, feeling my advice was to control her. But now as she starts her senior year at ASU we're more respecting of each other and closer than ever.

"Cottage By The Sea" said...

Oh Pam, I feel your pain. For freshman in college it's the same as being the newbe any time in your life, you just want it to be over. Time marches on and so do you. Ah but, now what do the people left behind do with their changing role? When each of my kids went off to college it was an experience unto itself but with an unqualified amount of similarities to each and to yours with Katie. When mine came home (especially that first time) and then that first summer - the experience for me sounds exactly like yours. Going on retreat with a friend sounds like a wonderful solution. In part. Also, in my humble opinion, and from experience, the returnee needs to work and volunteer and keep hours similar to the rest of the family so as to feel part of it. Otherwise, they don't feel part of the family and frankly behave as such and to the extent that you nobody can wait for the summer to be over so they return to college. You'll appreciate and actually revel in year #2. Good luck as your baby grows up. I guess that's why they call them growing pains.

parenting ad absurdum said...

Oh my gosh - my oldest is just entering kindergarten - so interesting to read about what's coming in the future! What a good and thoughtful mama you are. (Just clicked over from Sue's book blog btw, liked your comment about literary novels - totally agree ;)).

Karen Peterson said...

I didn't go away to college until I was 22 and then I didn't really ever come home. Not exactly. But I did go on an LDS mission for 18 months and transitioning back into my normal life and living with my family again was tough. I had changed, my family had changed, even my home address had changed. Everything was different and we had to get used to each other again. But we did it and we are closer now because of it.

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

Oh Pam, this post made me want to reach out and give you a hug. You have no idea how much I can empathise with you over this situation you find yourself in, although it was a few years ago as our daughters are now 31 and 27 and we had no FB to turn to then. The feelings will not go away but you learn to live with them and like you I now have FB, and Skype which do help I think when they both live so far away. Thinking of you xx

Anita said...

Pam, your introspection on this topic is just wonderful. I am just now starting to really think about the girls leaving. I know it's been coming but now graduation is over and in 12 or so weeks they will be leaving, and it seems unreal.
I wish I had advice, but I believe I will be looking to you for my own help very soon. There aren't many mountains in FL, do you think a quiet beach would do?

Star Forbis said...

Great post! I'll be anxious to hear how it's going, since my son is gone for the summer, which is the first time one of my children has been out of the house for more than a week or so! I did notice before he left, things in his personality, that I think were his way of breaking free. :)

Sandy said...

Beautifully said. You have me a little teary here. You are always so good at analyzing. Sometimes things can't be analyzed and you just need to go with your gut and I know you do. We don't see Katie everyday so the changes in her over the last couple years are remarkable. Always a sweet little girl, she has become a smart, articulate, independant young woman. You and Geoff have much to be proud of.

Business logo design said...

Very inspiring...

Sue Jackson said...

You know I find all of this fascinating, Pam, with my own first-born's college years coming up soon.

Since I haven't experienced the empty nest yet as a parent, all I can offer is what I remember from when I was the new college student. I just remember it being very difficult to readjust to living with my parents after being on my own.

It's great that you have given so much thought to this from both your own and Katie's perspectives. She's lucky to have such a loving and thoughtful mom!

Sue

 

Blog Design By Lindsey Joy Design © All Rights Reserved.