The kids go off to college, and the sun burns out

The kids are arriving for their first year at St. Cloud State University, the St. Cloud Times reports today.

In Mankato, the same scene is repeated at Minnesota State University, the Mankato Free Press says.

Denise Furman, the mother of an incoming student, says she’s already gotten “the talk” from her daughter, the one that includes a warning not to expect a phone call from her every day.

This is the way things have to be. We know this and we’ve known this since the day we dropped the kids off at elementary school and for the first time, they didn’t turn around to wave goodbye.

Not long thereafter, they asked us to drop them off a block or two from the school.

We know this is the way it has to be.

We were the sun, and they were the planets, Beverly Beckham wrote in a 2006 op-ed in the Boston Globe that has been so popular, that the Globe reprints it every year.

Today is that day.

My friend Beth’s twin girls left for Roger Williams yesterday. They are her fourth and fifth children. She’s been down this road three times before. You’d think it would get easier.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without them,” she has said every day for months.

And I have said nothing, because, really, what is there to say?

A chapter ends. Another chapter begins. One door closes and another door opens. The best thing a parent can give their child is wings.

I read all these things when my children left home and thought then what I think now: What do these words mean?

Eighteen years isn’t a chapter in anyone’s life. It’s a whole book, and that book is ending and what comes next is connected to, but different from, everything that has gone before.

Before was an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager. Before was feeding and changing and teaching and comforting and guiding and disciplining, everything hands-on. Now?

Now the kids are young adults and on their own and the parents are on the periphery, and it’s not just a chapter change. It’s a sea change.

As for a door closing? Would that you could close a door and forget for even a minute your children and your love for them and your fear for them, too. And would that they occupied just a single room in your head.

But they’re in every room in your head and in your heart.

As for the wings analogy? It’s sweet. But children are not birds. Parents don’t let them go and build another nest and have all new offspring next year.

Saying goodbye to your children and their childhood is much harder than all the pithy sayings make it seem. Because that’s what going to college is. It’s goodbye.

It’s not a death, nor a tragedy, she acknowledged. But it’s not nothing either.

Good luck in college, kids. Call your folks once in awhile.