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Off to College: A Mother Watches Her Child Fly

Posted in: Blog by amy on August 24, 2017

“Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, that children understand; their stories and all their accomplishments sit atop  the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the water of their lives.” Paulo Coehlo


IMG_0933Last week, my 18-year-old son received his solo pilot’s license in the mail. This week, I took him from Chicago to Colorado to begin his freshman year of college. The metaphor is almost too perfect as it became literal instead of just figurative: As he prepared all summer for this past week’s solo flight, I prepared for my firstborn child to fly solo out of the nest.

He was clearly ready, I felt, as I watched the taped landing of his first instructor-less flight. To know that he had just flown around the sky for 40 minutes, completely alone in the plane, filled me with pride.

When I asked him if he had been nervous he said, “Not at all. I felt confident. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.” At that moment, I felt more than just pride. I felt peaceful. I felt joyful. And I felt reassured … reassured that his father and I had done something right as parents. We always encouraged our son to follow his own unique interests and to believe that he could do anything if he worked hard enough. And, that’s what he did: He learned to fly.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Executive Flight School

Photo courtesy of Chicago Executive Flight School

But, the truth is, I can’t take credit for my son’s motivation as he believed he could accomplish this goal over the summer more than I did. For me, the task sounded overwhelming: It was the start of summer — his last summer home before heading off to Colorado for his freshman year – a summer in which he was going to work many hours to save money for college — a summer in which he wanted to hang with his friends, hear music and simply have fun. How could he simultaneously take flying lessons and study (for countless hours) such things as wind speeds, navigation techniques, emergency landings and performance maneuvers? How could he devote the necessary hours to the classroom and to spending time in the sky? How could the child who was once my little guy be force stalling and recovering a plane? I thought it was too much to try to accomplish in just a few month’s time. But he disagreed: He knew he could do this.


Maybe it wasn’t just the hours of time needed that I was concerned about; maybe I also was a bit fearful. It was hard to wrap my head around the concept that my baby boy was flying an airplane. He had just graduated high school and would soon be leaving for college.

While this time in life is so exciting, most parents can agree that it also signifies the end of something that we are never fully ready to face: It is the time that we unleash our children into the world. We send them off on their own path, hoping that (in the 18 years that we have had with them) we have instilled all of the lessons and wisdom that they will need to guide them on this monumental path.

We sat at dinner tonight talking about time as I commented how quickly it goes by. He then talked about the concept of time, relativity and different dimensions, as he shared thoughts he learned from Neal deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking. Here I sat, philosophizing with my son. Did it get any better than this? And, in that moment, he wasn’t simply my son: He was a man with wisdom and ideas and interesting thought processes. He was a human being who had previously been under my wing who was now ready to fly on his own.

After dinner, I stood in the parking lot of his dorm and said goodbye. I looked my son in the eyes and told him that he had a world of opportunities and possibilities before him. Then, I told him to be smart and to make good choices. Anything is possible, I told him, as I peered into his eyes hoping these last words of advice would stick. And, then, I reminded him one more time to make good choices. He reassured me by returning my stare and saying, “Mom, you don’t need to tell me to make good choices. You already taught me how to do that.” What more could I have wanted to hear? He confirmed that his parents have given him the tools, have instilled the wisdom, have steered
IMG_8708him onto a good path.

So, what can we parents do in that moment except hope that it all holds true? We simply can hope that our adored children will stay the course that we have put them on … hope that they will make twists and turns on that course that lead them to great discoveries … hope that they will experience endless laughter and joy … hope that they will positively impact others’ lives and make this world a better place … hope that they will be safe … hope that they will always know how very loved they are.

I spent so much time thinking about my son flying around Chicago this summer that I did not have time to worry about packing the right items for school. His dorm room is not perfect. We forgot a few things. We only started packing the day before we left because all of his energy and time was spent flying this summer. But, that turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. Because he focused on a goal and accomplished it this summer, I was able to realize that he is more than ready for college … even if he’s a little short on socks. He can adapt and problem-solve and get what he needs. He doesn’t need mom the way I had once loved being needed. And, I don’t need him to need me that way anymore either. This is all I wanted the day I became a parent: to raise children who are independent, authentic beings who will one day become confident enough to fly (figuratively and/or literally).

But, I still had that feeling in my stomach, a feeling that many parents who have experienced sending a child off to college know quite well: We are not sad as this exciting chapter is beginning in our child’s life, but rather we are mourning the end of a period in life in which our child was “ours.” They were ours to feed, to clothe, to worry about, to teach, to hold. And, now, they are becoming capable of doing so much on their own. Sure, they may come back home to live one day or they may not. Either way, there is so much unknown.

As I slowly drove away, I watched him walking towards his dorm in my rearview mirror. Then, I stopped the car completely, turned my head around and watched as the figure of my son became smaller and smaller in the dark of the night. I pulled away and smiled, thinking to myself, “you’ve got this, son.”

I keep looking at the picture of him standing in front of the small aircraft in which he did his solo flight last week. That’s my baby boy … that’s my grown son … that’s a young man who has a whole world of opportunity before him. And, now, I just will sit back, look up at the sky and watch the beautiful white trails that his airplane leaves behind.


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