Last summer, in August of 2013, my husband and I packed up the belongings of our first born son, set the GPS to Boston Mass, and began the new adventure of settling him into the Northeastern University (NEU) campus. Adventurous for all of us because so much of it was unknown, unseen, and un-lived. The terrain set before us had a roadmap full of expectations, but it gave no emotional how-to guide to get us through the first-year speed bumps, the parental wait-and-see toll lines, and, ultimately, the unravelling of our day-to-day navigation strategies we had gotten so used to providing for our son– and for ourselves! My husband and I are far from helicopter parents, but, at the same time, we are greatly invested in our son’s journey. I brand us as satellite parents, connecting at a larger distance with FaceTime chats, tweets, and texts; but forever reminding ourselves to let the new community of NEU nurture and hold our child while we learn to let go. The process was, continues to be, very emotional, and I never tried be a hero with any of it; but as I look back at this past year with all its ups and downs and uncertainties, I remain thankful that NEU community provided resources for us willy-nilly first-year parents. It made the letting-go journey a little bit easier, starting with the first step, the drop off at White Hall dorm.

The scene outside White Hall was streamlined and efficient. As we pulled to the usual busy Boston city street off Huntington Ave, we found it now to be roped off by security personnel along with a group of orientation leaders assisting all of us parents with first-year move-ins. We worked together to pack all of my son’s belongings into rolling bins, and they escorted my son and I to line up at the elevators while my husband was redirected to park the car elsewhere. It was all good. It was exciting. It was happening fast, but I was prepared for this momentum, because before we left I had asked my husband about our plan of departure. He very pragmatically said “We will get him settled, set up, and then go.” “Ok, good”, I thought to myself, “Lets just make the cut fast, short and sweet, and let him settle in.” But, funny how it is that when you make a pragmatic agreement with your heart, all things go to hell in a hand-basket  when confronted within the emotion of the moment. You quickly forget what was once agreed upon and it all seems too silly to consider. Needless to say, it was not a quick drop and go. I watched my husband find one more thing to take care of, the WiFi connection, the rearrangement of the room, the “Lets get something to eat before we go”. It was all very sweet and real, and I am thankful that NEU did give us this time, to wander, to check, and re-check, without feeling, literally and figuratively, that our parking time was exceeding it’s limits. Eventually, my son hugged me, hugged his dad, hugged his little brother, and we drove away. Again, it was good. For him maybe, but not so much for me.

During the next few weeks I was baffled at my disorientation. Working full time outside the home for the past nine years, I was very accustomed to not wrap my whole identity around motherhood, so these feelings of loss and separation were really freaking me out. My independence fed his independence, so what  was I so worried about? Telling myself to “Get a grip”, became a familiar mantra throughout my day, until, when I found myself shamefully slipping once again into the MyNEU portal trying to somehow re-connect with my son, I clicked into the online community of the Parent Portal. Here, I found My Tribe. It was a great sounding board of parents posting wants and needs, worries and regrets, do(s) and don’t(s), with reassuring voices of “Yes, that happened to my son/daughter too. No worries.” Relief. Thank you NEU for providing this resource.

So, here at the close of summer of 2014, as we start to look ahead to this upcoming year at NEU, I also find myself giggling at my ineptness and worries of a first year parent. My son had a stellar year as a first year Engineering student; learned the ups and downs of choosing to live in a living-learning community consisting of many different types of majors; was denied into a one fraternity in the fall, accepted into another in the spring; and ultimately enjoyed the great urban campus NEU provided for him. It was only when my friends here this summer continued to tell me over and over again how mature he is since coming back from a year spent in Boston, how grounded and confident he is, did I truly get that this letting go was indeed a letting in. My husband and I will remain in his orbit, true to keeping a wide berth, but we are also learning more and more how to let in the presence of other things, things much bigger than ourselves (i.e.: professors, college friends, co-ops) so they can become greater forces in his life. Thank you Northeastern University for a real good time. So far, so good.

Kathy Donovan
New Hartford, NY