275. Letting Go

In 1965, a representative from Beloit College (in Wisconsin) came to Walt Whitman High School (in Huntington, Long Island) to convince us that Beloit was the place for us. He talked about the great academic environment at Beloit. I wasn’t impressed. He talked about the terms we’d be able to spend off-campus doing all kinds of interesting work. I wasn’t impressed by that, either. What won me over was the fact that Beloit was more than a thousand miles away.
It’s not that my parents were abusive or obnoxious. They’re pretty good parents. But I had the vague notion that whoever I was was not going to be who I’d been so far, and if I stayed near home, who I’d been so far would be haunting me wherever I went. I saw college as more than just a place to learn a trade; it was a place where I could “find myself.”
I didn’t spend much time thinking about how much my parents would
miss me, or how much I’d miss them. They were hurt by my obsession with “escaping” from Long Island. Did it mean they had failed as parents? No. It meant they’d succeeded in getting me to a point where I was at least interested in becoming my own person. Some people can do that near where they grew up, and some can’t. I couldn’t.
So I went to Beloit College, and even lived and taught in Beloit for a year after I graduated. I got married there, and my older daughter was born there. I
had established my turf, and when my parents came to visit, there was no doubt that they were the visitors. I’m sure that they kept hoping I’d return to Long Island, and though I did move east, I never moved back “home.”
And then my daughters grew up. One went to school in Burlington, Vermont, and one in Olympia, Washington. My own “escape” had been recent enough that I didn’t try to talk them out of it. I understood the need to get a fresh start. It’s not a universal human need; some people are quite content to stay with their families. But I had to respect their decisions to get away. And for all I know, those decisions may have had more to do with Burlington and Olympia than with me or their mother.
Maybe you have a son or daughter who is going to go to college, or has some other reason to find a new place. And maybe it will be far away. If so, I hope there isn’t too much pain involved. It may be that it’s something that just has to happen. And it may be that you aren’t being rejected – that you’ve raised someone who is ready to move on to the rest of life. Sometimes you just have to let go.

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