The Real Change of Life by Sharon O’Donnell

Okay, it hit me several days ago: my middle son is finishing high school and will be going to college in August. This fact cannot be forgotten about any longer. It is time for all the senior activities at school — senior breakfast, senior night at his last home baseball game, senior picnic, senior awards day, baccalaureate, and of course graduation. And several of these events requires the obligatory photos for display — the photos of your child throughout the years. For two of the events, the deadline to get the photos in was yesterday, meaning I spent the past few days going through 22 photo albums and a several stacks of assorted pictures that have miraculously accumulated in various locations around the house.

And with those photos comes the memories. Yep, they hit in full-force this week, as the reality that my soon-to-be 18-year-old son would be moving out of our house soon to go to college. I knew it was inevitable, but things have been so busy in my life and in his life that it has sneaked up on me. Yesterday, after looking through a lot of photos of him as a smiling toddler and novice baseball player, I got up to let our dog outside, and as I walked to the door, I burst into tears. I leaned against the wall sobbing, while our dachshund stood staring at me as if saying, “What the heck, just let me out already!” And after a minuter or so, I did let him out. I opened the door, walked out onto the deck and down the steps to our dog’s pen — back to normal once more. Yet, I know another crying burst will be ahead of me.

When my oldest son graduated from high school three years ago, I felt somewhat like this bittersweet feeling but not to this degree. Briefly, I wondered why it was hitting me so hard this time around. me. Two reasons came to me — the first one immediately. The first one is that this is the son who has had the most struggles getting to this point. He’s achieved despite a learning disability, but I’ve really had to be a hands-on parent over the years with him — supplementing at home, meeting with teachers and counselors, and arranging tutors. With the anxiety he’s suffered with the past year and a half, it is impossible to put into words what it feels like to have him leave our home for an extended time. My husband and I have always been there for him, and now we will be two hours away. I get a knot in my stomach just thinking about it. But he has been doing well lately, and I have no reason to think it won’t continue into college. Still . . .

And the second reason that was not so obvious dawned on me as I stood outside with our dog, mentally examining my emotions. Since I have a son who is a junior in college, I know first-hand how the college experience can change a relationship. My oldest son and I are still close, and I still love to talk to him whenever he is home. But it’s different. He’s different. He has lots of friends on campus that I don’t know, goes to events that I don’t know about, and has essentially another part of his life that I don’t know that much about. He’s independent, and that is good. He has a summer internship at a firm in Research Triangle Park, NC this summer, and he will be living with some of his college friends (two that I DO know). But still, the dynamics of my family have changed immensely since he’s been in college, and so have the dynamics of our relationship. I miss having all three of my sons at home.

And just when I’m getting used to it, another one is going to leave. I know my relationship with him will change. I know it’s good that it will change because that means he’s growing up and maturing just as a person is supposed to do. But I will miss it. I will miss him as he is now just they way I sometimes miss the toddlers all my sons once were.

For me first son, I put together a DVD for his graduation with still photos of his past and some videos excerpts too. I’m working on this now for my middle son — going through photos again and then videos. I will get emotional again, I’m sure. You hear a lot about menopause being the ‘change of life’, but I don’t think people realize how tough the ‘going away to college thing’ is for moms This is the real change of life.

  1. 2 Responses to “The Real Change of Life by Sharon O’Donnell”

  2. What a lovely post! I have an only child who just started middle school, and I’m already thinking ahead to college and the separation (although he says he doesn’t want to go to an away school,I’m sure that will change in the next few years). Thanks for giving me an insight on what to expect.

    By Rebecca on Apr 14, 2012

  3. I think I will be able to relate to you, Sharon, in ten years from now when my 8 year-old son goes off to college. Our son’s both share the same disorder, which is overwhelming and time consuming for everyone involved. I commented on another of your blogs that knowing how well your middle son has done in high school, it gives me hope for my son to overcome this learning disorder too, and succeed. With putting in so much of yourself helping your son get to this point successfully, there will definitely be an emptiness, eventually for me as well. You are a terrific Mom. Reaching out to the public through your blogs must help your emotions. As a last resort, you can read your book, House of Testosterone! Your book will put a smile on your face!

    By Cara Potapshyn Meyers on Apr 17, 2012