I have been constantly thinking about my student. I know she is an adult, but she is still my baby. I cannot believe it has been six weeks since I dropped her off. This has easily been one of the hardest times in my life. Not hers. Mine.
It began long before drop-off day with college visits, essays, acceptance day, check lists, New Student Orientation, back to school shopping. Then, in an instant, it’s here. The final packing of the car(s) and that awful, gut wrenching drive. You are trying to keep it together to demonstrate to your student, and to yourself, that this will be OK. This is a Herculean effort no one can prepare you for. Then, it’s time to say goodbye.
Fast forward six weeks. There has been lots of texting, a few chatty calls, a quick hello here and there, some tears. Now it is finally time to visit your student. There’s a private countdown happening in your brain. You are dizzy with the excitement of seeing your student. Has there been growth? Will you meet their friends and/or their families? Will you like them? What are you going to do as a family? There is so much to choose from. You are likely to eat at one of the DCs, certainly more than once if you have any say. You’ll park your car, get out, and restrain yourself from running through the residence hall calling your student’s name. You are one of hundreds of other families desperately doing the same, looking for signs of their babies. And then that moment when you spot them looking for you! You can’t get to them quickly enough. But, when you do, it is the greatest hug ever. Tight and long! You are feeling them for the first time because they have changed and they have grown. Perhaps not physically, but you can feel the change. It’s only been a few weeks, but it seems like a lifetime. You realize that your baby isn’t really a baby anymore. College confidence and spirit have replaced their uncompleted corners. Conversation bubbles forth because there’s so much to say. You listen and nod, smile and watch every little movement. They wave to friends and introduce their families. It’s almost overwhelming.
My family has done this transition to Family Weekend three times. And, each time it has been exactly the same. The change is electric! It is a true testament to the old adage: it’s not the destination, but the journey. Both student and family have taken the journey and survived, learned, grown and thrived. And Family Weekend is the proof.
Reconnected at last! This is their world and you let them lead the way. You walk and talk. They point out everything: where their classes are, where they have been, their clubs, where their friends live, where they want to live next year, etc. They have so much to say. You have your weekend planner in front of you. What to do?
Family Weekend in 2011 was very different than Family Weekend today. Each year has become much more fun and exciting. In 2011, we did the Family Ice Skating, which was seriously awesome. The girls still talk about it and gently chide each other. I asked them in a group chat last night what were their favorite Family Weekend activities and their responses were skating, the Noodle Bowls, and sharing Sushi at Berkshire DC. The older girls are amazed at the 2017 offerings and are hoping to join in the fun.
This year, I can’t even express the options in front of us! But here’s our tentative list: Our oldest daughter, class of 2015, wants to do the Sustainability Bike Tour of UMass. She and her friends truly appreciated UMass’ Sustainable Mission. Then, she hopes to run the Multicolor Mile with her sisters. My husband, the history buff, wants to do the Haunted UMass Tour. The youngest, class of 2020, and I hope to be a part of the Saturday morning “Get Moving UMass”, a 40-minute fall foliage walk around campus. We will be at Dare to be Aware, where a panel will discuss ways to encourage responsible drinking, and how to help keep students safe. Maybe we will partake in a classic fall wagon ride through campus or a trolley ride into Amherst. Another Family Skate at the Mullins Center is an option, too. Time permitting, after dinner we will take in (my first) UMass Hockey game.
Of course, amidst all of these fun things to do with our student, we will enjoy our traditional family meals in the Dining Commons, especially the Taste of Home Lunch. UMass Amherst Dining features some of the family favorites submitted for their Taste of Home recipe book. To be honest, mealtime is my favorite time. We have all been separated, and it gives us a chance to reconnect and meet our daughters’ friends and their families. This has never changed over the years. Family meals with our student’s “new” family is the one constant, all of us reveling in the coming of age of our students. It is a sight to behold, and we silently pat each other on the back. They are happy!
Before we know it, it’s time to leave. It doesn’t matter that you have already survived the most important drop off back in September. It’s time to do it again. Hope you have tissues! You’ll walk your baby back to their room, look at your feet, shuffle a bit, and then say it: “We are so proud of you. We have had a wonderful time. You are really lucky and UMass is lucky, too. Be safe! Have fun! Study hard! See you at Thanksgiving! And we love you.” You’ll hug. You’ll keep yourself together. You’ll try to smile. Emotions will stir as you walk away. You’ll cry in the car and maybe a little at home, but this time it’s different. Dinner conversations revolve around other things now. How grown up your student has become. How alive the campus was. How much there is to do. How much your student is doing! Sadness has turned into amazement.
Your baby — now your young adult — is fine and you are fine. It’s all good! Really! Be proud!
Leslie Mitchell is a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Association Advisory Council, and the parent of two UMass Amherst alumni and a current sophomore.