I feel for parents who will be sending their kids off to college in a few weeks.
I was an emotional wreck when I sent my son off to school for the first time. And though I’ve still got my daughter for one more year, the thought of her leaving can bring me to tears.
Unlike their cousins who grew up in London and traveled the world by the time they were teens, my children have led very sheltered lives. I realized the extent of our limited travels while driving my son to a tennis match when he was about 15.
Awakening from a nap in the car, he gazed at a cluster of skyscrapers off Interstate 91 in Connecticut and said, “Wow, what’s this?”
“Um, Hartford,” I said, identifying the state capitol about 45 minutes from our house.
I don’t consider myself an overly protective mother, but I have anxiety about letting my kids travel alone. I like to know that they’re safe, and feel best when they’re both under my roof. I know this won’t last, that giving children wings to fly is the point of it all, but I’m not sure the worrying ever ends.
My son was 17 when he went on his first solo trip to Seattle with a friend after high school graduation. I just put my 18-year-old daughter on an Amtrak train bound for Washington, D.C., marking the first time she’s traveled by herself.
Though she spent a week away from us at running camp this summer, there’s something about sending your kid off into the world alone that’s scary. As parents, we’re used to knowing where our kids are, even if it means tracking their I-Phones. And let’s face it, the world can be a dangerous place, particularly for a teen-age girl traveling alone.
I found myself warning my daughter about stranger danger and other safety tips before her trip. “Don’t talk to anyone on the train,” I said. “In fact, leave your headphones in so people leave you alone.”
Standing on the Amtrak platform with my daughter, a young woman told us that her parents still drop her off and pick her up at the train station. “And I’m 30,” she told my daughter. “Make sure you call or text your mom when you arrive.”
(Of course, she did not. Ten minutes after she arrived at her destination, I texted her, “You OK?” Her response: “Yep.”)
I didn’t intend to raise country bumpkins when I set off on this parenting journey nearly 22 years ago. The Curmudgeon and I traveled a bit before the kids arrived, though my fear of flying definitely restricted our adventures and kept us stateside.
But somewhere along the line, we stopped traveling as much and became homebodies. Our clipped wings coincided with our kids’ sports and school commitments, particularly in high school. Between September and June, we’re at the mercy of the school calendar. We can’t travel during those months because the kids must be at matches and meets, or face benching by their coaches. (Some coaches are more sticklers than others. My son’s had no wiggle room.)
I learned I was losing my parental grip when my son joined the high school tennis team as a freshman. When I announced to his coach that he’d be missing a week of practice and matches to join us in South Carolina, he told me he doubted my son would be joining us.
“Talk to him,” he said. “I think he plans to stay around for the team.”
He did, staying at home with a friend and his mom while we vacationed 1,000 miles away without him. We didn’t realize family vacations would end after eighth grade, but they did. And I didn’t realize coaches would have more clout with my son than us, but I was wrong on that count too.
Like most things about parenting, sending your kid off on their first solo trip involves a lot of trust, prayer, letting go and texting on your I-Phone. I felt like my daughter’s co-pilot through much of her trip, texting her to make sure she was OK and reminding her that her stop would be coming up in 30 minutes, then 10, then 5.
I got a lot of Thumbs Up emojis and “I know Mom,” but I really don’t care. She got there safely, and that’s the only thing that matters. Now I just have to get through the return trip.