Side by side illustration of a happy mother and child hugging at college drop off and a crying woman hugging her child.

The Reality vs. The Fantasy

I dropped my son off at college at the end of August. This is my older son, the one who was 13 years old when I was first diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. I thought I would be fine. I even wrote in a previous article about how I was sure I would be fine because I was just thrilled to be alive to see this day. All true, but that’s not exactly how it played out in reality.

Dropping my son off at college

In reality, I dissolved into a sobbing mess when I said goodbye to him and left him in his dorm room, over 700 miles away from home. Was I happy for him and glad I could see this moment? Of course, but I also knew how much I would miss him and how much our family dynamic was going to change. One of his roommates’ moms (he has six roommates, by the way!) gave me a hug as my husband quickly led me out of the room and onto a bench in the courtyard to continue my sobfest. Not exactly how I expected the goodbye scene to go in my fantasy!

His college was pretty adamant about parents leaving their students alone after 4:30pm the day of drop-off. That night, my husband, younger son and I wandered around the college town, as I had planned, eating tacos and ice cream. I thought I would only feel overwhelming joy, but I felt kind of sad. There were many other couples and families also wandering around town and at one point, we ran into a couple whom we had met previously at a Chicago area meet-up for the school. We hugged like they were long lost friends, knowing we were all experiencing the same feelings. My diagnosis didn’t make me feel any different from other suddenly bereft parents, despite my fantasy. It didn’t change the fact that I’m human...and a mother.

Staying busy and readjusting

After returning home from the college drop off, I had a whirlwind of work to do to get ready for the World Conference on Lung Cancer in Barcelona and then spent 10 days out of the country. It was so good to get away and change my focus immediately! I didn’t have time to obsess about what my college son was doing or how often he was calling or texting me. I was actually surprised to hear from him a number of times while I was in Barcelona, asking for advice about picking classes or purchasing a bike. Here’s hoping that another distracting trip comes along in two years after I take my younger son to college!

Our family's new normal

Now that I’m back in Chicago from Barcelona, I feel that I’m somewhat adjusted to my son being gone. I know he is enjoying his time at college, liking his classes and roommates, and making new friends and joining activities. Dinners are a little quieter than usual, with just my husband, my younger son and myself. But this is our “new normal” and we are all moving on. I’m not 100% sure my younger son is enjoying the increased mom focus on him, but we’re working on figuring it all out. Freshman parents’ weekend is coming up in October, though, and I can’t wait!

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