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Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Time Of Change

My niece, Mikal, will be moving to La Crosse, WI tomorrow to start her college years at Viterbo University. I remember the fear, anticipation, hope, and doubt I experienced at my departure from home for college fifteen years ago. That mixture of emotions was with me quite strongly the first few days and lingered for the first few weeks. Mikal, you will be fine; my advice is to embrace these changes, enjoy the experience, and endure the challenges. It is worth it.
That is not what I really want to write about here. I really want to speak directly to my sister, Kelly, and any other parent sending a child off to college. While your job as a parent is never really done, your major involvement in the development of this young human being is essentially over. And that is okay, as much as it might hurt right now.
You might worry about whether or not she is ready. Too late. Let it go. It was not expected that you make her ready for every eventuality in life. You know you have done your best and she knows it too (though maybe not as completely as she will in a few years--I will come back to this point). And I know that as long as you are able you will continue to be there for her; she knows that too.
You will be there to celebrate the highs. She will certainly choose you to be the first to know about those. You will also be there to provide consolation at the low times. Though she is certainly counting on you for this, you might have to tease these out of her as she might be reluctant to burden you or might want to prove her independence. You will know when something is so wrong that it requires a little mother's meddling.
Change is stressful. Whether it is your first child going off to college or the last of five it makes for a huge change in your life. On the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale a child leaving home correlates to 29 stress points. However, that isn't the full story, a change in social activities (18 points) and a change in recreation (19 points) go along with a child leaving home. And there is no measure specifically for the last child leaving home either.
So tomorrow night, Kelly, you are returning home to an "empty nest." I suppose that is one way to look at it. Perhaps a better way to think about it is as the place where your family will continue to gather for years to come. Where ever you are living will be a monument to the family you and Randy have raised; as you know, it isn't the walls, rooms, furnishings, or memorabilia but you who are the gathering point for your family.
Mikal won't be there everyday; memories of the past and anticipation of the future will be all around you. That is okay too; as long as you do not wallow in it.
While it will never be a substitute for the daily contact with Mikal, you now have time and space to explore new interests, pick up new hobbies, and set new goals. You have admirably done the very important, 24/7 job of being a parent for the last 18 years.
Now you get to try to new things or return to old interests you had long ago put away. Celebrate Mikal's advancement in life by continuing to advance your own; you can continue to do the job of parenting by modeling, in this way, a joy in being alive.
In a few years Mikal will begin to fully appreciate what you have taught her. I know she thinks she appreciates it now; Mikal, there will be countless little and big lessons you will draw on in your life that you couldn't possibly be aware of now.
Be thankful every time you encounter one, and when you become aware of the big ones give your mom/dad a call. Kelly/Randy please resist the urge to say, "I told you so."
Tomorrow represents a huge marker in the life of our family, many beginnings and many endings. Kelly, my heart breaks too, that the quick to smile, silly, happy little girl is no more.

My heart also soars when I think about what joys and sorrows Mikal has ahead of her. She has so much of life to explore, enjoy, and experience for the first time.
I know that Mikal is a smart and hard working young woman who will get everything out of life that she can get. How couldn't she when you and Randy have done such a good job of raising her?

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