Firstborn

It is not a debilitating disease.

It is not a death.

It is not a permanent loss or a mistake that can never be undone.

But sending your firstborn off to college is not nothing.

People have often asked us these questions…

Was having four kids harder than having three?

Was going from man-to-man to zone defense the biggest transition?

And I have always said no. Zero to one is what rocked our world.

We had no idea what to expect, what bringing a new baby into our lives would entail. We had no experience, no playbook, no way to gauge what that change would do to us, to our marriage, to our home, to our hearts.

And let me assure you that when I brought Sam home from the hospital, I was a Hot Mess. I was so fiercely in love with him, so terrified I would break him, so worried I would lose myself. I cried constantly. Everything made me weep: Hallmark commercials, unexpected visitors bearing lovely baby gifts, running out of Fudgsicles.

Sending him to college has felt frighteningly familiar.

It’s new terrain, and I have no roadmap.

I never know what’s going to be my trigger. Saturday, I assembled a giant care package filled with clothes and beach towels and Pop-Tarts and trail mix and… and healthy snacks and tea bags for Lily. I debated about writing a sappy letter, knew that he probably wouldn’t read it, opted instead for a big note in Sharpie on a piece of printer paper: “Hope your first week was awesome! We love and miss you!”

It was not enough. It was still too much.

And when I handed the heavy box to the sweet gal at the post office, I lost it. Tears streaming down my face, I explained, “It’s the first care package for my college boy.” I’m not sure she cared. I think she might have called security. I wouldn’t have blamed her.

I’m more than a bit unhinged, needier than usual, wobbly at my core.

I’m still getting used to the idea that when I bring the other three kids home from school, he won’t walk in the door shortly thereafter. When we go out for dinner, I still ask for a table for six. Then I get a lump in my throat when I have to say, “No, five. It’s just five.”

We don’t leave the light on for him anymore. When he comes home late at night, it’s to a different home.

His car sits in the driveway, unmoving.

And here’s the thing: Sam is so happy. He’s probably happier than he’s ever been in his life. This kid has always wanted to spread his wings as far and as wide as he possibly can. I am so grateful that he has that opportunity now, that he’s finding out exactly how fabulous he is, that he’s creating his own life… not one we’ve defined for him.

His life is so much his own now. Less ours, more his. Just as it should be.

We did our job. No regrets. Not one.

But I had no idea how it would feel in my bones, this day-to-day hole of Sam.

It is not nothing.

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