The Bittersweet Good-bye

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I cried from Bismarck to Minneapolis. It wasn’t pretty. I laid on the seat in the third row of our SUV heaving, sobbing, snorting, and blowing. I grabbed tissue after tissue from the box and left a wet spot on the pillow. I tried to cry quietly because I didn’t want the kids to hear, but they knew. My husband knew. No one was surprised. We’d just left our oldest at college and had to drive twelve hours home.

Note to self: next time, fly.

My oldest just started his sophomore year in, of all places, North Dakota. North Dakota is one of those states that is not part of my world view. I’m familiar with the movie Fargo, and I know North Dakota exists, but as far as a place I gave much thought about, Bismarck was not one of those places.  Now, when I pull up Find My Friends on my phone, I see my son’s smiling face beaming up from North Dakota, which is a really long way away from where I live.

Sending a kid to college is the definition of bittersweet. While I’m thankful he is able to go away to school and my brain knows he is doing exactly what he should be doing, my heart has a tear in it. I need to stop grabbing too many knives and forks when I set the dinner table and buying too many groceries.

For most kids, senior year of high school is a fun, full year of lasts and looking forwards. The last homecoming, the last class retreat, the last first day; looking ahead to college, independence, new friends. It’s emotional and terrifying and exciting all bundled together in a hormonal package of skin and smiles. Not so for my boy. This one came skidding to a stop because he wasn’t ready. He didn’t want to move out. He didn’t want to study. He couldn’t fathom a future any different from the present. He juggled different plans from playing soccer in Europe to applying for ROTC to ignoring the whole thing.

Our futile attempts at figuring it out with him became weekly arguments. The other kids quickly learned to scatter when these discussions started. We questioned. We cajoled. We tried to be sympathetic. We got frustrated. We got angry. I had a thimbleful of patience that quickly dried up. He was stressed by me. I was aggravated by him. My husband wanted to talk. I wanted to hide and hope it fixed itself.  

I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to grab him by the shoulders and holler, “What is wrong with you? Why won’t you do this?” Part of me wanted to give up. No part of me was acting as a good and loving mother. I needed help from someone who is a good and loving mother: Mary.

Mary, I need to give my son to you. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to love him the way he needs me to love him. I’m stressing him out. He’s stressing me out. Please take him. He’s your son too. Please take care of him and help him through.

It was a tough prayer. It was hard to admit I was not being the mother I wanted to be. I didn’t want to fail my son but I didn’t know how to help him either.   When my husband said he wanted to talk about it all, I told him that I was taking a break.  We had time. We can talk in a month. It was all I knew to do.

The school year raced on. No forward progress was made. We weren’t willing to do the work of applying to schools for him, but we were willing to brainstorm options. We suggested a gap year, but he was afraid he’d never return to school. We suggested trade school, but he wasn’t motivated. Finally we stumbled on the answer: go to a two-year school, start on gen-eds, and live at home with us. Relief flooded through him. It wasn’t glamorous or prestigious but it was right. It was what he needed. We all knew it. He wasn’t ready yet. He needed another year. It was going to be okay.

The following summer he went on a mission trip with our church and met a kid who was going to a small Catholic school in North Dakota. The boys stayed in touch and my son became interested in this school. His classes at the two-year school were fine but he was getting tired of the 45-minute drive. He was starting to get itchy. Starting to think about the future. Starting to think about possible majors and jobs.

He and my husband drove out for a site visit and he came home in love. Suddenly, the motivation switch flipped on. He did everything he needed to do to make a transfer for the following year happen. We never nagged. We maybe offered a few suggestions, but he handled it.

Months later, we are driving home from dropping him off. He is happy. He is excited. He gets to play soccer and go to Mass and can’t wait to meet new kids and take Western Civ. It’s hard not to be excited for him. He’s exactly where he needs to be: the University of Mary.

She is so good!


Copyright 2018 Merridith Frediani

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About Author

Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, tending to dahlias and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. Her favorite part of the day is family dinner which sometimes doesn’t happen until 8:30 pm. She enjoys hanging out on the front porch and laughing with family and friends. Good Italian wine is a must.

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