Around this time every year, we see a lot of posts on social media about children going off to school. First day of kindergarten. First day of first grade. First day of high school. Dropping them off at college for freshman year, with all the associated pangs. The parent taking those pictures likely has a few tears welling up inside as they snap the shot.
It’s so hard to let go, isn’t it?
I remember when my mom and dad dropped me off at Ohio University for my freshman year. I lived in Perkins Hall on the East Green. I got drenched with sweat as I moved my stuff into my fourth-floor, cinderblock room painted the ugliest shade of light blue — I will never forget it. I didn’t know my roommate Keith, who would become a good friend after those first few weeks. But on that day, he was a total stranger. Would be be able to get along?
Also, Keith had arrived first and taken the bottom bunk, so I had to climb up to the top bunk to sleep. I don’t sleep well on top bunks.
All I wanted to do was pack up and go back home.
I remember waving to my parents as they pulled away in our bright red station wagon after some awkward goodbye hugs. I remember the scared, what-am-I-doing feeling. But I never considered it from my parents’ perspective until many years later when I had moved into the parent role.
One time after my dad died, my mom was reminiscing about me going off to college. She said that as they pulled away in the bright red station wagon, my dad got tears in his eyes. She’d rarely seen him get so emotional over something.
Those letting-go moments touch something deep inside, don’t they?
There’s a feeling that we’re losing them in some ways. They’re growing up and slowly slipping out of our hands. Each time we drop them off at a new classroom or a new dorm or new apartment, we’re putting them a little more fully into someone else’s hands.
We drop them off for kindergarten, and now they’re in the hands of a teacher we don’t know. We take them for their first day of first grade, and now they’re in a classroom with many others who can befriend them or belittle them. And we won’t be there to see which it is.
They walk through the front doors of their high school for the first time, starting a part of their lives that we know from experience is so challenging, and we hope that they’ll find enough acceptance and encouragement to balance out the self-doubt and the growing pains.
We drop them off at college and recognize that they are very much in the hands of others now. Those other people — will they inspire them and care for them? Will they listen to them and dote on them and pay attention to them the way we’ve done for so many years?
Will they love them and care for them as we do? Will they treat them as their own children?
Those moments also teach us something we probably hadn’t considered until then.
The truth is that just as I’m putting my children into the hands of others, there are many others who are entrusting their children to me. And their parents are hoping I treat them as if they are my own.
Which they are.
Our hands are never empty. Even as we open them and let our children move along the path to adulthood, we find that others’ children enter our daily lives in some way.
And not just others’ children. Others’ parents, siblings, friends — our hands are always filled with the lives of so many others. Will we take care of them and love them as our own?
One last thought. As we open our hands to each other, we get a chance to better know the one whose hands hold all of us in every moment. The one who asks that we hold each other the same way.
Gently. Securely. Lovingly. And sometimes tearfully.