My heart will get stronger

Features column

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

All he wanted was his pillow.

“Let’s buy you a new one,” I said as we pushed our way through Target, our red buggy filling quickly with odds and ends. There was a surge protector and a mattress pad, some hand towels and a flashlight. We were only halfway through our shopping trip, a very important shopping trip, and I just knew he wanted a new pillow.

He didn’t want a pillow.

“I want to take mine from home,” he said and in the blink of an eye, just like that, it hit me. Home. It was the word home.

He is really leaving. My son is going off to college.

It’s not like I haven’t thought about it before now. I have, many times. On his first day of preschool at the First Methodist Church, I sat in the car in the parking lot for nearly 45 minutes, my hands gripping the steering wheel and my eyes glued to the double doors. I was waiting. Surely my baby would be so distraught, be so upset about being away from his mama that they would call me and I would need to come back to pick him up. I wanted to be close. I needed to be ready. Just ... in ... case.

Just in case never came, and I picked him up later that day and he promptly informed me that he had decided a dinosaur would make an excellent pet and that we should eat more Cheetos because they are orange. The next day, I only sat in the parking lot for 30 minutes. And each day after, my heart got a little bit stronger.

If it’s this bad now, I remember saying out loud, what will it be like when he goes off to college?

“Don’t blink,” a grandmother dropping off her granddaughter said to me as we walked out of the preschool together that day. “It will be here much too soon.”

Through the years, through kindergarten and elementary school, middle and high, I would look at the other mothers getting ready to send their babies off into the world, many of them sad, and try to offer an encouraging word.

“You have done a good job getting them ready for this exciting time,” I would say. “I know you are so proud of who they have become and all that that they will be.” Then I would say two little prayers, one for them and one for us. Because I knew one day I would be getting ready to send my own off to college, and just like them, I would be sad. One day.

And then I blinked. And there we were. Standing in the aisle at Target, staring at pillows. He didn’t want a new pillow. He wanted to take his pillow. From home.

Of course he could take his from home, I told him, fighting every urge of my being not to grab a hold of his 6-foot-3, 200 and something pound self and sob, right there in the middle of the store. I turned, only for a moment, to suck up the tears threatening the corners of my eyes. I blinked, then turned back around. He was gone, on to something else.

He will be fine. He will flourish. We — a village of family and friends and teachers and mentors — have through these years done a good job of helping him prepare for this exciting time. We are so proud of who he has become and all that he will be.

And it all begins, really begins, this week. If you have a minute, please pray for our babies, our young men and women, going off to college, that they may be safe and healthy and wise, faithful and strong. And if you have a minute more, please send a little prayer for those of us sending our babies off into the world. I know it will be hard to make that drive to Athens. Hard to unload that car. Hard to put that pillow, his pillow, on that bed. Hard to say goodbye.

And if you happen to drive by on Wednesday and see me sitting in the parking lot outside his dorm staring at the door, don’t worry. I just want to be close for a few minutes more.

Just in case won’t come this time either, I am sure. Just as I am that each day after Wednesday, my heart will get a little bit stronger.

Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at flyn1862@bellsouth.net.