Planning for your kids to go to college should be exciting as the world opens to them to find their path, their tribe, their niche. College planning can also be overwhelming. There are a lot of decisions to be made with even more details to keep track of. That time has come in my life a single mom of a son entering his senior year of high school. None of this feels easy.
It seemed like a simple trip to plan: the college scouting trip. It’s not like I didn’t know we would be heading off the rock to look at schools this summer but I’ve been waiting for some definitive ideas on where my son wants to go. The truth is that I’ve been putting this off because of what it means; he’s leaving.
Empty Nest Syndrome Before an Empty Nest
Empty nest syndrome is the feeling of incompleteness when your child moves out of the house. With fewer responsibilities, caretaking, and even the nagging, parents miss having their children home. While I am excited to see him tackle this next milestone of his life and I feel good that I have done what I can to prepare him, I feel selfish wanting more time with him home.
As a single mom of one, the idea of him leaving sets off a whole series of empty nest feelings long before he ever leaves. I start to look at the way my life is now and the next stage to make sure there is no hiccup for either of us with a healthy transition.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like my teenage boy spends a ton of time with me. I’m a single mom with a teenager who is busy living his life with his friends and being a healthy normal 16-yr old guy. I’m busy with writing, rehabbing my knee, spending time with family along with all the cooking and cleaning that comes with a raising a teenager.
Still, I don’t look forward to the quiet I know will be in the house. I know our dog will wonder what’s going on after all, if I just ask him, “where’s Matt?” While on a walk, he starts to race home to search the house. He loves his boy as do I.
The College Scouting Trip
Now this trip – looking at schools he isn’t even sure he wants to apply to. The schools he has on his list literally span coast to coast: New York, California, Illinois, and Boulder (Boulder is my alma mater and my hopeful choice for him). First, this single mom isn’t looking forward to the chunk of change this will cost. The idea of a high-ticket trip to send him out the door is about as enticing as interviewing and hiring a handyman in my opinion.
My inner circle of friends tell me I should forgo the practical college scouting and enjoy a summer with my son. A last hoorah of his youth before he takes on the world. There is a lot in that notion that I love, yet I can’t keep myself from the responsibility of making sure he has a good sense of where his next steps might take him.
A Road Trip
Even though I know we need to look at schools, there is a big part of me starting to feel like a cross-country road trip is the best solution. The insight my friends offer makes sense. Spend time with him because everything else will work out. Sure, look at schools but there a lot of people who love schools they went to without ever visiting ahead of time including me.
As I think about the road trip idea, I begin to fall in love with the notion that my son and I will have hours to talk, the opportunity to camp on a diversion, and spend the one-on-one time that hasn’t been readily available over his busy high-school career and isn’t likely to change.
Driving Being Our Thing
It’s funny because my son and I have never really taken a road trip, even when living in Southern California. We did a lot of day trips and local drives, but nothing out of state. Yes, we have this thing started years ago during my divorce. At times when my son was stressed and withdrawing himself from his friends and me, we started a game: Left Right Straight.
This was really out of frustration on my part with not having a clue about how to get him to talk about his feelings One day we just got in the car said, “Where to.” He didn’t have an answer so I gave him instructions that at every stop sign, traffic light or freeway entrance he had to choose, left, right or straight. We’d go on a little adventure, the initial ride being very quiet. Eventually, he would open up and start chatting about everything.
Taking the Wins Where They Come
As a single mom, I know I don’t have all the answers. But, this one game has changed the way my son and I communicate. To this day when we are in the car, we talk. There have been times we have planned to do one thing and my son instead says, “Let’s just drive and explore.” These moments still melt my heart and make me feel a connection that I hope to always feel with him no matter where his explorations take him.
Hopefully, he will not just remember our drives, but what they have come to mean. In life, you have to always keep moving. Sometimes you go straight while other times you may turn. If you realize you went the wrong way, that’s okay. You can change direction at the next stop.
Yep, a road trip it is. How many schools we see is a bit up in the air, but my tribe is right, it’s time for us to just have a blast on the road with all the craziness that comes with it. He’ll see things he hasn’t and I’ll gain the confidence to let go.