Today marks a landmark in our family. Our oldest grandchild, dear sweet Catie Byrd, is settling into her college dorm room at Mercer University, five hours away. She and her parents left yesterday with their and her cars loaded down with all the accoutrements necessary for her living away from home. I know that the most important things she will need for this new chapter in her life are not in the boxes and bags in the cars, however. Those things are within her…….faith in God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, quality education, creativity, passion to serve others, confidence in the resourcefulness and resilience that comes from knowing she’s not alone, and evidence of clear decision-making that includes a trusting relationship with her parents and an appreciation for their opinions.
I am reminded of the emotions I felt over two decades ago as we delivered her father, our oldest child, to his first semester at the Citadel. Once we had unloaded the boxes, had lunch together and given and received a brief hug and quick kiss on the cheek in view of other freshmen “ knobs“ , we left Charleston with an odd mix of relief and joy. We were grateful to have his turbulent teen years turned over to the day to day oversight of the military structure and disciplinary code of the college. We were also still surprised at his choice to put himself in that environment instead of the familiar and blatantly party-hearty environments to which some of his friends were going.
He had exasperated our attempts to enforce curfews, impose financial responsibility, demand accountability, and more. We could do little more at that point than pray for him, love him, and sign the checks for the tuition and fees that the next four years would require and hope that some of those things would arise from the school’s efforts and the time that would hopefully get him over the arrogance and perceived invincibility that my Father referred to as the youthful folly of “Fool’s Hill.”
Those years would, thankfully, bring significant changes in him, though, like all of us, he remains a work in progress!
Two years later we would follow behind our daughter with her car and ours loaded down with her belongings as she moved into her dorm room at Birmingham Southern College an hour and a half from home. With her roommate and the other set of parents we hung valances and curtains, made beds, loaded the dorm refrigerator, and hooked up the computer. We had gotten them set to go as well as we could, literally and figuratively. We lingered longer than she would have desired, I’m sure, reluctant to leave, even though she was obviously eager to see our tail lights exit the parking lot and begin her new life of independence and self-discovery.
I cried all the way home…..in part, for my sense that my life had permanently lost a role that I would grieve for the next several years, feeling lost and trying to figure out who I really was after the previous two decades of raising children, even as inadequately as it had been at times. Moving from parenting children at home to being the parent of young adults would prove to be both joyful and grief filled, not terribly different from the “children-at-home” years. Learning to hold lightly and respect their new adult boundaries would require another decade, at least. And, I admit, that I still struggle with that from time to time.
But there was another emotion, fear, and a desire to protect her in ways that never stirred in our hearts with our son. Was it that she was a girl? Was that she was our “baby”? Was it that she seemed more vulnerable? I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. I simply felt that there would be difficult stretches in her road that I would probably never know about and that she would have to find her way through all alone. It was probably a projection onto her of the fears and need for protection that I felt when I moved away to college.
I am glad that those years with my own children are over. And I am glad, too, that being the grandmother of a departing college student gives me the emotional distance to enjoy this new stage of my granddaughter’s life, praying for her and celebrating the possibilities of her young life without the personal sense of responsibility and the regrets that I have somehow been less than what was needed to prepare her for her emergence into adulthood. I am confident that her parents have done a better job than we did as parents and that she is far better equipped than our two children were for their transition into adulthood. As I gave her a card and a little personal gift yesterday to mark this momentous time in her life, there was nothing but joy and an expectation of her being blessed in this season of her life! God is good. All the time. This confidence, she and I share. Go into your future and keep that confidence, Catie!