Set to Sail

It hit me last night. We have only two weeks until the two oldest boys head back to college. I was in the Target store, picking up a couple pairs of shorts for my ninth grader, and I witnessed an influx of moms with their presumably college-aged kids, buying extra long twin bedding, wastebaskets and such. That's when it occurred to me. I've been ignoring the inevitable. My boys are leaving soon.

Oh sure they'll be home for visits at Thanksgiving, and Christmas, but likely those will be whirlwind trips during those busy times of year. In and out, they'll come. They'll cram in visits to high school friends. They'll squeeze in work on weekends so they can make it financially through the next semester. It won't be until next summer again that they are really back here under our roof.

I know. Some moms have sent sons their age off to war, and my boys will be in the seemingly safe environment of a Catholic campus and in a network of friends I like and approve of. But they won't be here, and that's why this mother's heart aches.

I like being with them. I like the full house and the noise. The boys' bedroom is directly below my husband's and mine, and many a night after telling one another good night, I can hear their voices talking and laughing (or a guitar strumming) as I fall asleep. I love the activity in the morning as I ready the younger ones for swim team and the older ones head off to work. "What time will you be home?" "Will you be eating dinner with us?" I try not to be bossy as I ask them these questions, careful not to word it in a too controlling way because they are, after all, not little children any more. I even like that. They are growing into fine young men.

 Often this summer I knocked on their door. I planted myself on the little loveseat in the middle of their room and just sat and talked with them. Fortunately they didn't seem to mind. I got in my lecturing mode a couple times, hoping to implant one more virtuous idea in their heads before they leave, hoping to make one more impression on them before college life again engulfs them. Will they keep their Catholic faith?  Will they remember the daily catechism we taught them as little children? Do they call to mind the Sunday night 'family meetings' of their youth? Have I done enough? Did I nag too much? Can we make that transition from hovering and doting parent to adult mentor and friend? I wondered.

Father John Hardon, S.J. once wrote of three ways to keep kids Catholic: be a channel of grace to them; pray with and for them every day; train them to understand what they believe. Being a channel of grace is trying to be an authentic Catholic myself. It is modeling behavior and attitudes which I hope to see in them. Praying with them may be tougher when they are at school, but praying for them is not. I can encourage my sons to call, email or text when they need extra prayers. I can find out ahead of time the Mass and confession schedule and venue on campus to make it easier for them. I can make contact with some good priests and introduce them so they will have allies there. I can encourage involvement in Catholic clubs and organizations. I might even send some money to support the dues. Finally, I can encourage them to share their experiences and ask questions to help them discern how to put their faith in action. I will acknowledge the difficulty of living for Christ on a college campus and let them know I will always be here to support them.

"A ship is safe in a harbor, but that is not where ships are meant to go." I saw this on a poster. Yes, boys are destined to be men. And mothers are supposed to help them reach their potential, not wistfully pine for their ever-presence. So, in a couple weeks I will help them pack their J.C. Penny sheets and Target fan, and Wal-Mart notebooks and pens into their car heading for campus. With a hug and a kiss and I will release them to God and let them sail. I'll also let them know I'll be in the port, waiting, whenever they come home.

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  • Guest

    I'm a little misty after reading your article.  I needed to hear the quote you added at the end.  My oldest just graduated university in May, has a job and is supporting herself now.  We bring my other daughter up to Va Tech next weekend (which presents new emotional challenges, after the tragedy in April).  It is coming all too fast.  I have talks with God about this "circle of life" thing–like you, I love having my children at home, and have enjoyed every stage they've grown through.  Letting go is hard, so hard.  Nobody warned me it would go this FAST!  I try and keep looking forward to the blessings of the future; we wouldn't have had this fantastic life with them if we hadn't left our homes and our parents.  My mother has said, since the birth of our first, "Small children, small problems; bigger kids, bigger problems;" I resented hearing that because it was a "downer;"  it sure put a gray cloud over the future.  But, she was right.  However, I always thought those problems would be the children's.  Now I know–it's OUR "bigger problem" to adapt, and to trust God more and more with their future.  It's a vast uncharted sea out there for me, now that semesters, Christmas/Spring/Summer Breaks, and parents' groups are coming to a close.  I'm glad #2 daughter is in an engineering curriculum; we may get an extra semester or two before she's actually out on her own, fully fledged and ready to turn her back on our empty nest.  Or, to use your metaphor, to set sail on the as-yet uncharted waters, as her dad and I both had to do–to encounter as-yet undreamed-of challenges, successes, and blessings. 

  • Guest


    It's funny that you used a "ships" analogy because I have been pondering that a mother is like the keel of a ship.  She steadies the ship when it is out of port  in calm and rough seas alike.

    I think you will always be the "keel" for your boys regardless of where they sail because your safe harbor is the Rock.

    I've got a child returning to college in two weeks also.  She'll be missed by all of us who only set sail vicariously with her.

    What an exciting time!

    Tether the canoe, let the sails fly!