Pre-Departure Breakdown

Pre-departure breakdown.

The daughter leaves in three days. I haven’t had a breakdown. My husband hasn’t had a breakdown. In fact, our daughter only had a minor sniffle earlier today because she is going to miss her friends.

But something wicked this way comes…

I can feel it in the air at our house. I’m a little tense. She’s a little tense. And she is trying to squeeze in as much time with her friends as she possibly can. She slept at a friend’s house last night and came home long enough today to pick which clothes she wants to pack…or maybe I should say she picked which clothes she wants me to pack for her. And that’s OK.

After she dashed out to spend time with her friends again, my husband said, “Wow. She doesn’t want to spend time with us as much as she wants to spend time with her friends.” I told him, “That’s normal. In fact, I would be worried if she wanted to be with us more than she wants to be with her friends right now.” He looked surprised, so I explained further, “She knows we are here for her. She knows we always love her. We are the sure thing. But her friends are all going in different directions. I’m glad she wants to spend time with her friends.” And he got it. The fact that she wants to be with her friends means she feels secure in her relationship with us. It’s a good thing. We should actually be flattered by it.

It’s like when a kid behaves perfectly well in public but then gets home and acts like the spawn of Satan. My mother used to tell a story about 4-yr-old me. She said she took me somewhere, and I acted like a perfect angel, but when we got home…I was mean and fussy. She finally asked me, “Why do you act like this at home?” My 4-yr-old answer? “Where else can I act like this?” And she got it. She said, “Nowhere, honey. Just here…where we love you.” She knew I felt secure enough at home to have the breakdowns and act a little out of sorts. I knew she would love me no matter what. And that’s what our college-age daughter is feeling right now. She knows we will always love her no matter what, but she is trying to cement her relationships with friends before she leaves.

So yes, she teared up a little earlier, telling me she was going to miss her friends. She then told me, as we were packing her clothes, that one friend texted her earlier that she had a full-on meltdown about leaving for college. I think our daughter knows it is going to happen to her too. She had a fearful look in her eye. And I reminded her that she is going to be OK. She will, in fact, love it once she gets there and gets through the initial jitters. She laughed and said, “I feel like I am going to sleepaway camp. I guess it’s kind of like that.” I said, “Oh, honey…it’s so much better. You’ll have a brand new dorm room with a great roommate and your own bathroom. You’ll have lots of new friends. You’ll have lots of boys to meet…they don’t have boys at sleepaway camp.” She laughed. She knows I’m right.

She also remembered that I said I would like for her to stay there till Thanksgiving, so she can become a part of the community, and she asked, “What if I want to come home one weekend?” I laughed and said, “Honey, you know I will get you home if you need to come home.”

She can always come home.

I reminded her of something that happened when she was on a group trip hiking across Iceland a few years ago. They were near a volcano, and the guide told them it was due for an eruption. Apparently, she also told them that air traffic is halted for a month when the volcano erupts. (I actually remember that happening 10 or 12 years ago.) Another girl on the trip panicked and ran to their tent (yes, a tent…ugh). My daughter followed her in there, and the friend said, “We could be stuck here for an extra month if it erupts!” And my daughter replied, “Don’t worry. There is no way my mother will let that happen. If that volcano erupts, she will find a way to get us out of here. She knows people.” I laughed out loud when she told me that after she returned home from Iceland. But she wasn’t wrong…I do know people…people who could have “extracted” her from Iceland in no time. And so today, when she was saying she might need to visit home before Thanksgiving, I assured her she can always come home. But if it’s just homesickness…try to stick it out, because she will enjoy college life a lot more if she becomes a part of the community, and you can’t do that if you’re running home all the time. Make college your home.

So with three days left before departure, I feel pretty sure a meltdown is on the horizon. The question is…will it be my meltdown or hers?!?!

What Is Home?

The world is continuously changing, and people are more mobile than ever before. People move halfway around the world, all over the country, and within states. But with all that moving, what is home?

When I was growing up, my family moved several times…from Florida to Alabama and then a few times within the state of Alabama. Every time we moved, our parents sat us down and said, “THIS is home now. MAKE it home.” And we did. Wherever we were, it became home. We didn’t refer to our old city as “home.” Our parents made efforts to help us join the community, and we hit the ground running.

Charlotte is a growing city, so naturally, there are lots of people always moving into the city. They come from all over the world, and most people I talk to love it. We were on an American Airlines flight the other day, and the pilot came on before we left Miami to go to Charlotte and said, “We are about to go to Charlotte. If you don’t want to go to Charlotte, you’ve probably never been there.” And I immediately thought, “He’s right!” Charlotte is a lovely city.

But if you move to Charlotte or any other city/town, it’s never going to feel like home till you start acting like it’s home. It’s a lesson I learned as a little girl, but lots of adults haven’t learned it. The first way to make it feel like home is to start CALLING it home. I can always tell when newcomers are going to be slow to get acclimated, because they keep referring to their old city as “home.” To me, that might be “where I’m from” or “where I used to live,” but my new city is home. My new house is home.

I have a friend who once told me she was homesick the entire four years of college. In talking about it, she told me her family lived about an hour from her college, and she would pack up and go “home” every single weekend. When she said that, I realized that was likely the problem. She hadn’t fully committed to being a part of the community at her school. Without that commitment, she was homesick. And the continuous going “home” just reinforced it. We talked about it, and she said she probably should have gone somewhere farther away. Maybe she would have become a part of her college community if she hadn’t been able to go back to her parents’ home all the time. College should start to feel like “home,” even if it is a musty old dorm room.

School age children who move often seem to assimilate into a community much faster than adults. Because they go to school, they are grouped with new people immediately, and more often than not, they find a friend group.

At most schools, I think new parents have more difficulty than new students. The first thing I always tell new parents I meet is to become a part of the school community. It’s an easy place to make friends, but you must put in some effort. If you’re an introvert, you may have to step out of your comfort zone for a little while to get started. All you need is one familiar face to start feeling comfortable. Find a face. You can do that by attending parent events and sporting events. But if the opportunities are there: volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! If you are giving your time to the community, it becomes your community.

I’ve known friends who moved as empty nesters, and the ones who started volunteering or attending events were the ones who started feeling like their new home was “home” soonest.

However, if you’ve moved to a new city and are still calling your old city “home,” well, you likely aren’t fully committed, and in my experience, you could have a long row to hoe.

I’ve always felt our parents did us a big favor whenever we moved by reminding us that we had a new “home.” My own daughter has always lived in Charlotte. She will be going off to college in four years, and I hope I will be able to instill that in her. I hope she will understand that her college is her home. Frankly, I hope she will be at least a few hours away so she has to become a part of things on campus, wherever that might be. On most campuses, Parents Weekend is usually about six weeks into the year, and that is done by design, so the students will make the effort to assimilate before seeing their families¬†again.

Then there’s the old saying, “Home is where the heart is.” I don’t know who came up with that, but for me, “Home is where I decide it will be.” Bloom where you’re planted.