This last week, my son, Will, and I loaded up a rental van with all of his wordly possessions and started the trek from Meridian, Idaho, to Azusa, California.
Since Scott and my youngest son, Addison, weren't able to join the pilgrimage, we used every square inch of space for his mini-fridge that he bought off of his oldest brother, Jack, his keyboard, his guitar, his ukulele, and of course, his foam mattress pad. Because dorm room beds are notoriously uncomfortable and sleep is precious to teenage boys.
I say 'teenage boy' because Will is 18. But really he is a fully formed young man.
My beautiful, funny, curly-headed, blue-eyed boy is grown.
I loved seeing him walk proudly down the aisle in his maroon cap and gown. Head held high.
And I loved hearing him sing Philip Philipp's Home with his senior class.
The plucking of the guitar in that song reminds me of when Will holes up in his room creating and recording songs.
And then when Will got his diploma and strutted back down the aisle, our entire family cheered like he had won the World Cup. In our eyes, he had.
He had conquered his senior year. The craziest senior year of all with a world wide pandemic upending all normalcy. There was good reason to cheer.
But I haven't been able to write about any of it.
Because every time I sat down to write, it has felt too big to wrangle.
My brain refused to come up with quips and stories and memories that have charted Will's course.
Maybe I thought if I didn't write about it, it would make it less true.
The inevitable was coming. Will was leaving.
The funny thing about kids leaving is that it just doesn't feel right.
When Jack, our oldest, left two years ago, it ripped my heart right out and left me raw.
It has been a slow mending of mixed heartache and joy watching him wend his way in the world.
I am inexplicably proud. I just really miss his face. Man, I love that guy.
And now here we are 2 years later, and Will is joining Jack at school.
Which is an amazing miracle of God's provision and grace.
But still. There is that whole dumb thing about actually going away to college.
Because that means I won't get to see him every day. Or get to squeeze his hand. Or give him hugs. Or hear him laughing or yelling at his friends playing video games. Or listen to his latest song that he has composed. Or just sense that easy joy that Will brings into the room when he walks in.
Man, I love that guy.
Will and I made the 14 hour drive in two days, stopping overnight in Vegas.
We had a full Welcome Weekend experience when we arrived in Southern California. Cheering students welcomed us with posters as we drove on campus. There was the President's Picnic. Eating with all the incoming freshman. Walking through the Azusa Gate. The next time he passes through the gate he will be a graduate. Candela. A candle lit celebration of light commissioning the students to be the light of the world. So many good things.
But, sweet mercy, those thoughtful moments tend to put you on an emotional rollercoaster that leaves you dehydrated and laid out by the end of the weekend.
It was so fun to get to see Will enjoying the experience. He let me go along for the ride. We ate together even when he was hanging out with his friends. We walked the campus together. I waited outside the building when he had his music audition and got the blow by blow with Scott listening over the phone, hearing how he had to perform one of his songs and sight read sheet music in front of 4 faculty members. The kid has guts.
His kindness buffeted the coming blows.
I think he sensed I was on the verge of some kind of maternal collapse.
Saturday night, the night before I would be leaving, was rough.
And by rough, I mean, all the tears that I had stored up Senior Year, decided they needed to get out before I met up with Will in the morning. I woke up all through out the night finding tears streaming down my face and dampening my pillow. I couldn't shake the sadness.
Scripture says that weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning.
Helpful Hint: If you can't find the joy, cold washcloth compresses on your eyeballs can at least alleviate some of the puffiness. Don't even think about trying to wear contacts.
Sunday morning there was a school-wide chapel service. This is the last event before Azusa tells all the parents very kindly and very firmly, "You need to go home now and let your kids get on with it."
They end the chapel by handing out pieces of chalk. You are supposed to go outside and make a circle of chalk on the sidewalk, write your family members name in it, and then stand around the circle and pray for your student.
It is a compelling moment. But I knew that if Will and I circled up, I would most likely collapse weeping into the circle, cause a scene, and Will would be forced to abandon me in the auditorium plaza.
There is only so much that a mom can handle.
I texted Will from my hotel room, "Do you want to go to the service? Or just go to breakfast?"
He texted back, "Breakfast, just you and me."
When I texted Scott that we skipped service, he said,"I can't believe he just got there and you already encouraged him to skip chapel."
I texted back. "He's a pastor's kid. He has a couple extra services in his back pocket. He'll be fine."
Will and I went to IHOP. We ate pancakes and talked.
He filled me in on his first night of dorm life and meeting some of the guys on his hall.
We talked about his upcoming classes and figuring out where they were on campus.
Then he asked me, "Mom, have you even cried at all?"
I told him, "Last night was hard. I cried a lot. But Will, I don't want to cry with you. I am so excited for you. This is such an awesome time for you!"
Then we got back into the car and Will asked me if I wanted to listen to some of his songs on the way back to campus.
He had DJed for us our entire trip down.
He put on my favorite song of his. It was quite possibly my undoing.
As we crossed the street before turning onto campus, the floodgates opened, and I started to ugly cry.
This was it. That heart-wrenching moment that all moms experience when they realize that they have worked themselves right out of their favorite job: momming. Loving on those people that you birthed and seeing them through to adulthood.
Will patted my shoulder saying, "You're okay. You're okay. But can you drive? Because you are blinking SO MUCH."
We pulled up behind his dorm and he hopped out. I put my head on his shoulder and cried into his neck.
It doesn't seem that long ago that he was that tiny boy who cried into my neck.
I told him that I was proud of him. That I knew he would do great. And that I loved him.
He squeezed me and said, "I love you, too, Mom."
And then he turned and walked into his dorm. Into his new life.
I thought that maybe saying good-bye to my second boy wouldn't be as hard.
Maybe my heart would have grown more used to the wrench of loosing my life from that of the beautiful boys that I love.
Nope. Not at all.
It was just as gross as the first time.
Addison, our youngest, senses this and is already worried.
But here is the thing.
When I asked Will earlier in the weekend what his favorite thing about his time at school was so far, he thought for a moment and then said, "The freedom."
There it is.
Will is ready to soar. I could see it in his face. I could hear it in his voice.
I am thankful that I got to hold him close for so many years. I will neither confirm or deny that I want to yank him right back into the nest. I may or may not be requiring some tissue right now as I write. (I'm not crying. You're crying.)
But Will is ready to find his way into the world.
And this is a good thing. Because the world needs more of Will in it. His light. His joy. His kindness. His loyalty towards those he loves. His love of small children and all animals. His songs. His quick wit and boundless creativity. And his thoughtful way of looking at life.
I am praying that Will senses the great, immense love of Jesus buoying him as he takes flight.
That Will leans into His goodness and grace when struggles abound and that he finds His comfort and hope when he faces heartache. And that he is filled with a sense of purpose and creativity as Jesus leads him on this new journey.
Go with Jesus, Will...and don't forget to text your mom.