Sending Our Chickadees Off to College and Keeping the Shoulds at Bay

06/05/2015 08:36 am ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016

They are on their way back home this season. The ones we said "goodbye to you" to last autumn.

The emotional upheaval of sending one's first child (and most likely the rest of them too if you have spares) off to the next educational chapter, varies. It's understood that they behave like rascals the summer prior to launch. Thankfully I was warned of this phenomenon. Perhaps this is so our hearts ache a little less when we tuck them into their tiny prison cell dorm rooms come September. The television and the refrigerator taking up the only remaining wall space. The Lilliputian bed had real coils that pinched when I dressed it that would inhibit future changes. When I had his two extra sets of sheets tucked into a little under -the-bed container it was time to say goodbye. He could not have tossed me out soon enough as a few distractions kept his attention elsewhere rather than on the dramatic movie scene where the parents part after 18 years of raising their baby and the kid squeezes them tight and pauses with tears in his eyes, torn from the chapter about to close and edging toward the one just about to open up. The pause between the chapters didn't happen in my case. I stepped out into the must be-a-fire hazard hallway, which now was gloriously decorated with gorgeous young ladies visiting their new neighbors in the Co-ed dorm. I just hope he can stay to the finish, keep his study helmet on long enough to come back fill up with knowledge to forge his path into this world.

This no-linger-even-for a Hallmark moment child that I said goodbye to in September was half way down the hallway to find the next tribe. They smelled divine and had long swishing hair. He shrugged off the last hug, obliged to a memory making photo and then I was standing there alone with an empty box. He made it easy. He really did. I didn't share much of this rite of passage to many folks. I felt a little bit bad not feeling sad. He was ready. I was ready. When I went off to college I was not home sick or melancholy at the good bye either. Hmm, Karma perhaps.

A couple of texts a week with two words each was my ration for a month. I sent a care package for Halloween and not even a thank you was offered back. I know I didn't send it to get thanks but come-on was this child raised by a pack of wolves? Isn't thanks part of the basic training ? Bless You when someone sneezes, help carry stuff, open doors, napkin on your lap, and THANK YOU when someone, even your mother does something for you. Ouch, he's gone and excomunico. I needed to take a pause and practice patience and remember that he is kind and generous and grateful and has such a wicked brilliant sense of humor and now I missed, missed him.

He did come a day early for Turkey Day, tucked into his bed while I was asleep so he could surprise me in the morning. That was kind. I didn't expect it. There in lies the problem, at least part of the problem. Even if I don't expect so much (a real hug good bye and a thanks for a care package, a hello every once in awhile-maybe a thanks for raising me), I do expect and he senses it and so he doesn't do anything. He just checks out. Subtle yet effective retaliation. When I Should my kids I can almost see the force field form around them shutting me out.

I let Mitch in on my hurt. He says, uh Mom it would help if you altered your expectations. He's right. Even if he wanted to offer more up, I have doomed it with my want and unspoken Shoulds. This kid and the rest of my tribe are kind when I just allow time for them to be. Patience mamma grasshopper.

Before the holidays wrapped up, my son asked me to do his laundry, a heaping hay pile of it. I asked him how often he had washed his sheets. Not often at all (translation-Never). The sheets were still on his bed. He hadn't brought them home. And the extra clean spare sheets, I inquired? Ah mom, I used those sheets for a Toga party. Really dirty sheets for weeks and the clean ones went off to a Roman root beer pong celebration? Yes, that's how it is mom. I verified this with a few other mamma's and yes indeed this is common practice, or lack there of.

Rather than let him know that he Should change his sheets, I paused. We could burn them and start fresh. I am not sleeping in the bed so Why do I have an opinion? An avoided Should. Enough of those and I did get an invitation to Mom's weekend.

This is a fine line I walk, we walk, resetting ourselves and making creative adjustments so we can accommodate those around us without misplacing what matters to us. He matters to me, not the shoulds or the sheets.

The laundry was folded and returned to the baskets ready for University. I hid them. He planned on leaving and I happened to be out with a friend. He may possibly have left without saying goodbye to me, but he wasn't leaving with out his baskets. Next time I may hide his Toga robes if the sheets ever make to my washing machine. He waited for me. He gave a great hug and a real seeyalater. My heart is Lifted. I miss that kid.

I Got it From My Mamma, he said in his InstaGram posting after Mom's weekend. I think that's praise in college language? He's back next week along with the thousands of others we sent off last fall. I can not wait, though I will keep my expectations at average height and enjoy his company Should free, promise, after we burn the dirty sheets.