A Letter to My College Freshman...Truth Inspired by a Baby Blanket
Someone once told me that a key to surviving college drop-off day was to write a heartfelt letter to your child and leave it for them to read after their parents' departure.
Because, of course, trying to say the words face-to-face to a child leaving the nest would likely induce an epic parental ugly-crying scene in the middle of the dorm room.
What someone DIDN'T tell me was that just attempting to write the letter in the weeks (and then days) leading up to college D-Day might also induce an epic ugly-cry every time I'd try to pen my thoughts.
How does a mama put into words what's been brewing on her heart for the past 18 years of life with her firstborn son? Where does one begin with all of the things I needed to say?
I pondered (procrastinated, really) up until the day he left and I suddenly realized I was almost out of time. The van was loaded for the 11-hour road trip to Montana State University that my son, his dad, and grandpa were touting as "man time." I would be flying in to help with college move-in the following day.
I assumed this was just a dry run practice goodbye for me, but my son hugged his little brother and each one of the dogs in a farewell embrace, the watershed started. And by the time he turned to me with his long arms spread open wide for my parting hug, I was fully sobbing.
"Geez mom, I can't believe you're crying again! You'll see me tomorrow," he chuckled softly.
As soon as they pulled out of the driveway I did what any heartbroken mom would do—I bolted straight into my son's empty bedroom with the intention of purging my sadness with a good long cry, face-down on his bed.
But when I opened the door to his room what I saw stopped me cold.
There it was.
Spread out intentionally on top of his perfectly made bed (Umm, I didn't even know he actually knew how to properly make a bed!) laid his blue and white baby blanket. The one I'd brought him home in from the hospital when he was born.
Earlier that week I'd found the baby blanket in the far corner of our linen closet during my frantic hunt for another heavy winter blanket I was insisting he needed to pack for college. Of course finding this nostalgic treasure had triggered a mommy-meltdown, and my son found me in a fetal position in the hallway, clutching the blanket and rambling on about how he used to love being swaddled in it so tightly.
"Ohhhhh, we used to call you our baby burrito..." I sobbed.
"MOTHER STOP IT" he snapped. "You need to GET A GRIP! I'm NOT a baby any more! And I don't need your help packing! Stop adding stupid crap to my pile—I don't need more blankets, or a first aid kit, or essential oils, or a an essential oil diffuser, or a rain poncho, or an umbrella! PLEASE just STOP!"
"He's just soiling the nest," I consoled to myself. But I was too hurt from his rant to endure another harsh dismissal, so I left the rest of his packing up to him while I sulked.
Apparently he not only managed to pack himself, clean his room, and make his bed—he left me with this baby blanket display that was obviously intended to make a statement.
Whether it was a sweet gesture or sentimental savagery, I'll never really know. But what I suddenly realized at the sight of that blanket was the truth I needed to face.
The kid who had just left for college was no longer the baby I brought home in that blanket. He wasn't the wide-eyed toddler who used to cup my face in his chubby hands as I tucked him in at night, mutually professing our love "to the moon and back." He wasn't the nervous kindergartner who clutched my hand walking into his first day of elementary school wearing a backpack almost as big as he was. He wasn't the insecure adolescent who I'd worried about being tormented on the middle school bus. He wasn't the newly-minted teen driver careening out of our driveway on his first solo drive to high school while I prayed his safety and checked the police scanner for accidents.
My son was a young man—a 6'3" hairy human, full of confidence and excitement to face a new chapter of his life. He no longer needed me to swaddle him in a blanket or coddle him on his way out the door. He'd shed the skin of his childhood and needed me to do the same.
He needed room to spread his wings.
And what he needed from me was to let go and believe that he would figure out how to fly on his own.
In that moment of clarity I knew what I needed to write in the letter.
And I knew that the letter wasn't about what I needed to say, but what he needed to hear.
The last 18 years went by way too fast, but I have no doubt that you’re ready for this next journey of life.
A mama’s heart for her little boy hopes things are wonderful and smooth—that you’ll love your classes, that you’ll find great friends, that you'll think Bozeman is heaven on earth.
But you’re not a little boy anymore, and although I still hope the above things are true, I have some bigger and more important hopes for you as you enter manhood.
I hope you face challenges that knock the wind out of you—and that you grow stronger and wiser as you rise up to tackle them head-on. (You’ve already had some experience with this, and as painful as it was in the moment it’s helped shape the man you are today and you’re better for it.)
I hope in addition to classes you love that you have some you hate so that you’ll realize what direction your career should point to by discovering what you want to avoid.
I hope you feel the discomfort and inconvenience of being a broke college student. You’ll miss some fun experiences and be hungry and frustrated by not having everything you want. But it’s good for you to learn to live with less, to make sacrifices, to juggle part-time work and experience the real satisfaction of what it means to balance your finances and earn your own money.
I hope in addition to amazing friends you’ll have for a lifetime that you’ll be exposed to people who are really different from you and make you uncomfortable. I hope this stretches your understanding of humanity, and that you learn how to find something worth knowing and valuing in people you normally wouldn’t hang out with.
I hope that you feel a little homesick—not that you’ll come running home—but that the distance gives you a new perspective on how blessed you’ve been by the strong foundation of the family that has raised you.
I hope you see the beauty in the world around you, but that your eyes are also opened to some of the world’s deepest injustices and needs. And I hope it stirs your soul and instead of making you feel hopeless, that it inspires you to be a hope-believer and a hope-bringer, and that you’re driven to help make the world a better place.
I hope you wrestle with doubts and questions about your faith, and that your relationship with God isn’t just a religion passed down to you from your parents or a set of rules to follow—but the deepening of an authentic faith that is truly your own.
I hope you know how proud of you I am. I’m proud of the man you already are, the man you will still become, and I believe in God’s plan for your life.
I hope you know how loved you are—and no matter what mistakes you make along the way that nothing can lessen my love for you.
I hope you know that your home will always be a place where you’ll be known, welcomed, embraced, and loved unconditionally—a place where you can come and be nurtured and strengthened to launch from again and again. (Unless you intend to be unemployed, living he the basement and playing video games all day. Then you’re paying rent!)
Lastly-I hope you know that I'll miss you a ton—but maybe a little less after the baby blanket situation you tormented me with.
I love you, buddy. Spread those big hairy man-arms of yours and fly.
Just don’t forget to wave to your mama once in awhile.
All the love in the world—to the moon and back.
P.S.I hope you get caught in a freezing, sleeting rainstorm on your way to class and have to take a test while soaking wet and cold so that you realize that umbrellas and raincoats aren’t just your mom’s silly ideas that you refuse to acknowledge.
PPS. I put an emergency rain poncho in your backpack just in case. Sorry I just can’t let that one go. You can thank me later.
Written by Kami Gilmour, mom of 5 teen and young adult kids. (saying goodbye to son at college move-in day in the photo.) She's the author of a best-selling devotional book for parents of college students that offers helpful encouragement and faith-filled perspectives for surviving and thriving in this season: Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent's Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly.