Going Full Golden – Part I & II

Momservation: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” ~ Elizabeth Stone

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I left my heart in Boise five days ago. I still have the emotional shits over it. I think today I’m going to go two spoons deep into some raw brownie mix for a shot of happiness. My husband, my dog, and my high school Senior daughter would say:

“What about us? Don’t we make you happy?”

And to that I’d say:

“Without you, I would be going ‘Full Golden’.”

“Full Golden” is what my friend, Wendy, has dubbed the complete emotional meltdown of saying goodbye to your kid at college.

I’m going to tell you the “Full Golden” story now because I search out people who make me happy when I am sad. I don’t want to read any more commiserating articles about how hard sending your kid off to college is and that we will survive it.

I know I will survive it, but in this moment it sucks. I just need to live it and get through it. There are perfectly functioning adults walking around with grown children, so obviously this stage has a happy ending and solid poops at some point.

In Part I of sharing my story of dropping my first born son off to college, let’s share a laugh instead courtesy of Wendy. If you’re feeling like a masochist and want a peek at my own going Full Golden moment, feel free to keep reading Part II.

Part I

Hubby and I are almost to Winnemucca, Nevada, half-way into the 8 hour drive home to Sacramento after dropping Logan off for his first year at Boise State University. Amazingly, we haven’t touched the tissues we bought when we were leaving town (shortly after Hubby had to use an old, emergency, bottom of the center console Chipotle napkin immediately after the goodbye when the surge of tears caught him by surprise). Maybe the barren, ugly, long-stretching highway through endless sagebrush has lulled us into numb trance. We just want to get through the desolate desert and get home to the daughter waiting for us.

That’s when I get a text from my friend, Wendy, who is 2 hours behind us and who has just said her parking lot goodbye to her daughter outside the dorms at Boise.

THAT GOODBYE WAS ROUGH!

Wendy and I like to keep it light so Hubby tells me to text her:

AT LEAST YOU HAVE WINNEMUCCA TO LOOK FORWARD TO.

It gave her the laugh through her tears that she needed before admitting that her husband, Tim, took it especially hard. She then told me about a Golden Retriever they saw have an equally hard time:

WE SAW THIS PUPPER LAY DOWN AND NOT MOVE. I ASKED THE WOMAN IF HE WAS OK AND SHE SAID THIS IS THE LAST PLACE HE SAW HER DAUGHTER AND HE WASN’T GOING TO MOVE. SHE THEN GOT DOWN ON THE GROUND AND GAVE HIM A LOT OF LOVE.

Wendy followed it up with this sad picture with the text caption:

THIS IS WHAT TIM DID WHEN WE GOT BACK TO THE CAR. DID’T MOVE AND JUST CRIED. SORRY, TRUE STORY.

Now it was my turn to laugh/cry.

A few hours later Wendy hits Winnemucca (whose welcome sign actually says: “Winnemucca. Proud of it,” because they can hear from every passing vehicle, “Who the hell would live here?!”). She reports that they are doing better after some ice cream and good-natured family teasing. Wendy and her youngest daughter, Rosie, have come up with a new phrase for a complete emotional melt-down after leaving your kid at college:

WE NOW CALL THIS GOING “FULL GOLDEN”

I knew my Full Golden moment would probably be as soon as I opened my front door and noticed my son’s Labrador-like energy missing. But instead of thinking about that I sent Wendy this picture with this text caption:

HOPE YOU’RE OUT OF NEVADA. DON’T PICK UP HITCHIKERS.

 For those of you who would rather laugh through your tears STOP HERE. For those of you who need to bleed to know you’re alive…keep reading.

PART II

I don’t want my son to read this. It’s not fair of me, as he embarks on this awesome journey, to hold him back with worry about how his mom is doing without him.

Because he would worry.

Because he’s a good kid.

And that’s one of the many reasons why I do miss him so much.

It’s Drop Your Kid Off at College Season and there are aching hearts all over this country. Mine is not unique.

I almost didn’t even write a blog about it because there already seems to be an oversaturation of sharing words of wisdom to get through it.

At some point you can’t prepare for it anymore, you just have to do it and live through it.

But as a family columnist who has guided parents through the joys and pitfalls of raising a family, not writing about the reality of your kid leaving home would be like being left with a cliffhanger ending.

So I’m sorry if you read this, Logan, and it makes you worry about me. Please don’t. I’ll be fine. We moms and dads are tough. If we can make it through the three delirious sleep-deprived months of you waking up every three hours to be fed, and the time your heart broke over not making the team, and watching you suffer the pain of two knee surgeries relegating an otherwise healthy, active kid to the sidelines of life for six months, we can get through this.

Every night of your entire life, for nearly 19 years I’ve prayed to God to please bless you with good health, happiness, and safety.

And as I left you in Boise, you indeed were healthy, extremely happy, and safe. My prayers are being answered. What is there to cry about? So, stop reading. This isn’t for you. Go live the life we’ve dreamed for you since before you took your first breath. Dad and I are truly thrilled you have taken over the writing of your story. We know it will be amazing. We look forward to the roles we will get to play in these next chapters. Thank you for letting us watch you grow up.

When people ask me how I am doing I tell them: It’s a confusing mix of happy and sad. I’m happy for my son. I am sad for me.

Here’s the reality: I’m not ready to get used to my kids not being around; For that to be my new normal—a quiet, empty house with two place settings at the table and no reason to restock the Rec Room fridge and snacks. I loved taking care of my kids. I loved the family chaos that having children brings. I was good at it. Plus, I just really, really like who these kids turned out to be and having a front row seat to where they were going.

Here’s the truth: I have been walking around with a vice-grip around my chest since before my first-born left for college. Each thought of my son (and his group of friends) leaving and taking their infectious energy with them, squeezed me tighter until I felt I couldn’t breathe.

I started crying over Chex Mix, processed turkey, my placid and empty pool…because these favorites of Logan’s would be left behind.

When it actually came time to say goodbye, I was okay. He was so happy already in his new home, my heart was lifted. I think for the 8-hour car ride through the ugly Nevada desert I was numb that it actually happened. My child had flown the nest.

But when we pulled into the driveway and saw his beloved car sitting there where it would not move until Thanksgiving, the uncontrollable tears burst forth again.

I kept checking myself because my husband was trying so protectively to hold it together so only one of us at a time would succumb to the sorrow over his absence. I checked myself because I didn’t want my daughter to witness the pain of a child leaving—I didn’t want to burden her with worry for me when she leaves this time next year.

But the weight of my sense of loss was crushing me inside. Everywhere I looked in my house was the ghost of my son’s childhood that had promised to linger, but instead raced away like a kid playing tag.

I couldn’t even escape it in sleep, as I dreamt of hurricanes and huge waves crashing—symbolic for big changes and emotional upheaval.

The first morning without my son, my daughter left to go to breakfast with friends (adding to the theme of my children leaving me), and my husband went to get eggs. Finally alone, like a wounded animal, I looked for a place to curl up and hide until I was better.

I found myself in my son’s strangely clean and quiet room, curling up in his comforter that smelled like him.

And that’s when I went Full Golden—a complete emotional breakdown caused by my kid leaving for college. I released the ache that had been gnawing away my insides and I sobbed out every bit of the 60% of water that my body is made of. I cried so hard and so loud, that my yellow Lab grew concerned and raced over to try to lick away my tears.

For the sake of my worried dog, I calmed myself. Finally releasing the sorrow for this chapter of my life being over was the watershed I needed. Raising Logan was an amazing story that I had written for him. Like any good story, I’m sad it ended even if it did have a happy ending. I wanted to reread it again and again because it was so good.

But as I looked around Logan’s room searching for solace, I realized none was to be found there. I was in his empty cocoon. He was now a butterfly who had taken everything with him that makes him Logan and flew off to his new life. Why was I wallowing in his stripped shell instead of marveling at his beautiful transformation?

I dried my tears and got out of his bed. I resisted the temptation to shut his door to shield me from it’s now Museum of Logan status.

It was time to accept that it was Logan’s turn to write his story. I am no longer the author; he is. I no longer have a front row seat to his unfolding life. I’m now going to have to wait for excerpts through texts, FaceTime phone calls, and SnapChats.

I’m not going to lie. It hurts. I’ve been binge drinking up the moments of my children’s lives for the last 19 years. Then I drop my son off at college and am forced to go cold-turkey. The withdrawals are rough.

But it’s necessary. It would hurt more if after raising my son he didn’t leave. I would have felt like I failed him if I had never given him the tools, the security, the craving to go out into the world and write his own story.

It’s been five days since I went Full Golden. The vice-grip, as promised by my friends who have survived their own children leaving home, has indeed loosened day by day. The waves of sorrow seem to be gently lapping at my feet now instead of crashing down on me. I still have one more year with my daughter, my last child, and I want to give her the best of me for her last year at home. He had the courage to leave. I need to have the courage to let him.

In the meantime, my son has sent us excerpts from his new chapter of life. His dad and I have been sharing excerpts from ours. These first few pages are pretty promising. I think we are writing a great new sequel.

Have a wonderful adventure, my heart. Lord, please keep him healthy, happy and safe.

#CollegeDropOff  #FullGolden  #EnjoyTheJourney

5 comments

  1. Elise says:

    Kelli,
    While sobbing last year after dropping off Sarah, I wrote this to a friend:
    Oh my God. There are no words to describe this feeling. How can something so exciting also be so incredibly painful? I’ve raised this beautiful girl to be strong and independent and in doing so, I’ve ripped my heart out of my chest and sent it off to college. I would make a deal with the devil himself to turn back time right now. I think it’s good that one can’t adequately prepare for this pain because then no one would ever raise kids to be productive adults. Watching Sarah weep in Glenn’s arms when we said goodbye almost knocked me to the ground. Having her cry in my arms made me want to grab her stuff and bring her back home. I might stop crying in a year or two. The world better be kind to her because she’s the very best of me and so much more.

    And it continues. She was home for the summer and once again, our home was complete. Now she’s off to her own apartment, her room at home devoid of not only her essence, but all of her furniture. It is as it should be and I absolutely wouldn’t want it any other way, but oh…my heart! I am a mother and it’s a job I’m really good at (if my kids are proof). My job now changes. I will always be “Mom” but my role is so very different. Yes, with these two precious treasures that are my children, I would go back in time and do it all again.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      See, Elise? This is why we talk with other parents who have gone through this. There is perverse comfort in knowing what pain lies in store, and sorrowful validation when it hurts so bad to say goodbye, that we must be good parents.
      Your letter to your friend is raw and powerful. Your truth is all of our truths with different names and college locations. And I just told a friend today that it is hard enough seeing Logan’s stripped room. I can’t imagine when he comes to take all his furntiture next year for his apartment and it becomes bare. Waaahhhh!

      You’re right, of course. We wouldn’t have it any other way. One of my original Momservations was: Being a parent means teaching your children to be independent when all you really want to do is never let them go.

      As good ol’ Garth Brooks sings it: “I could’ve missed the pain, but then I would’ve missed the dance.” It’s been a beautiful dance hasn’t it, Elise? Here’s to our dance card filling up with more great memories with our children.
      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and sharing your own experience. Enjoy the journey!
      Kelli

  2. Linda Henry says:

    Well, I guess I know I’m alive because I am bleeding…a lot…after reading this. I am glad you wrote it and shared your thoughts and emotions with us. What raw moments that are so beautiful. Full golden is now in my vocabualry and in my heart.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks, Linda, for taking the time to commiserate with me and send me a virtual hug with your kind words. Indeed, as I’ve shared my and Wendy’s experiences with going Full Golden and laughing through our tears, it seems this catch phrase is becoming an easy way for people to understand the depth of emotion in dropping your child off at school and a way to make light of it all in one. I’m so happy it resonated with you too.
      Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the journey!
      Kelli

  3. Ron Silveira says:

    Daughter of mine, please remember what comes after a rain (of tears), a rainbow. Take it from one who walked this path when you left for college, the person Logan will certainly become will fill your life with joys of so many kinds and pride beyond words – even for you. This time is only the end of the beginning, giving birth to the best of times for both you and Logan. Neither of you know that just now but I see it clear as day. Seventy years of living confers 20/20 crystal ball vision. Wipe away your tears and replace sadness with anxious anticipation for what will be the best time of your life. Logan and Whitney will see to that.
    Dad

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