Learning to Let Go Becky Stanley Broderson
By Becky Stanley Broderson
No one could have warned me enough. No preparation of any kind would have been sufficient. All of the anesthesia in the world could not deaden the pain of sending my first child off to college. I quietly dreaded August 17th all summer long. Instead, I focused all my energy on gathering the supplies necessary to equip my son for his first year away from home. Extra long sheets, monogrammed towels, a medicine kit, a sewing kit, a tool kit, a laundry kit (tub of quarters included), school supplies, Clorox wipes, and a Dirt Devil. I was determined that he would lack nothing.
We spent his last three days at home—the last of his childhood—together in his room cleaning out the past, organizing the present, and packing up the future. I loved and hated every minute of it. When we were done, we loaded seven boxes, a rug, a folding chair, a bulletin board, and a set of golf clubs into the back of his truck. That was it. Nineteen years of belongings all tucked away in the bed of his Tundra.
The next morning Jonathan was dressed and ready to go before seven, though we had not planned to leave until eight. It reminded me of his first day of kindergarten. He came into our room at 6:30 a.m., dressed head to toe with his backpack on. Now he sat at the kitchen table tapping his gray New Balances while we quickly prepared to leave.
After taking a few pictures next to the truck, John, Jonathan, and I headed north on the toll way. I sat in the back with the desk lamp and looked out the window. It was my first time to take this drive and I did not want to miss the lush green rolling hills that made the three hour drive north so pleasant. I also wanted to leave them to discuss their usual topics, sports, history, and world events because I knew this would be their last chance to bond—at least until the Texas vs. Oklahoma game.
Sitting in Jonathan's truck, listening to them chat, I tried to envision our goodbye. No matter what, I was not going to embarrass him. I would keep it upbeat and positive. Tears could wait.
Before I knew it we pulled up to the Couch Center at OU and went to check in. With the paperwork behind us, we eagerly loaded the dolly John had wisely brought, and rode the elevator to the 5th floor. At first I was taken aback at how stark everything looked. But once we began to unpack his desk accessories, move furniture, spread out his rug, organize his closet, hang his Texas flag, and adorn his bulletin board with family pictures (he promptly removed all but one)—his red, white, and blue room began to feel like "home."
However, when I went to put his monogrammed pillowcases on his pillows I realized that Jon had forgotten the one thing he'd been in charge of. Resisting the urge to scold (What good would that do?), I promised to overnight them to him.
With everything put away we walked (even thought it was 99 degrees) to the Armory so that I could see the campus. Jonathan's dream to be an Army Ranger was about to begin. We found the major in his office and delivered the appropriate paperwork: life insurance instructions, information regarding his dog tag, blood work, and scholarship forms. The military was another world that we were about to enter. After a brief and polite chat with the major, we set off (this time in the truck, thank God!) to find a grocery store.
By the time we finished shopping for provisions, Jonathan was antsy and ready for us to leave. He was anxious to be on his own (on his own, oh my word!) and I could not blame him. Back at the dorm parking lot, John and Jonathan hugged goodbye and I carried the groceries up to his room with him. The moment I dreaded had come.
But nothing happened.
I was numb. I could not feel my heart. I sat the bag on his bed, we hugged extra tight, I said goodbye, and closed the door. I took the stairs this time so I could be alone. I wanted to linger. I wanted to be where my son was for just a few more minutes.
Our drive home was quiet. We were too preoccupied with our own thoughts for chatter. We were also exhausted—mentally and physically.
The next morning I was up first and went down to make coffee. I purposely passed Jonathan's room. When I paused and glanced in (those pillows!) my heart began a freefall.
Crash! My heart broke into a million pieces. I called my dad and cried into my coffee cup for an hour. The numbness was gone. I felt every nerve in my body. I ached all over. I walked around the entire day in a heavy fog. Nothing tasted good. I tried to work at my desk. Every time I tried to focus, my sight was blurred by tears.
It continued into the next day as well. I did not want to talk—I just wanted to remember. I found Jonathan's grammar school photo album and was amazed at how small he used to be. When did he get so big? My 6 pound 5 ounce baby had grown into a 6'5", 225-pound giant!
By Thursday I was ready to enter the world again. I had to. My daughter was starting her senior year and I had to shed my sadness on her behalf. Though she had been very sweet about my and my husband's initial grief, she was ready for us to move on. I could not blame her. This was her time now and she deserved it.
It was time for me to start the whole process over again with her. I know she will have the best senior year ever and will be accepted to the right school this fall. I know for a fact that we will have a ball planning her dorm room together. (We both hate purple and love blue and green. Yes!) And, when the time comes, I know she will be ready to leave just like Jonathan was.
However, what I don't know is this: Will I be as brave? Will my heart survive the impact? Thank the Lord I have a year to mend. I just have to. Besides, I have a sophomore right behind her.
To read an interview with Becky Stanley Broderson, click here!
Three generations of the Stanley family (l to r): John, Becky, Jonathan, Matthew,
and Annie Brodersen, Dr. Stanley, Andrew, Garrett, Allie, Sandra, and Andy Stanley.