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No, Not Sad

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No. No, I am not. That's been my internal answer to everyone who's asked if I'm "sad" about sending our firstborn off to college soon. It started last fall when many of our good friends had just said "goodbye" to their oldest. "You'll see," they said, "it's awful." I buckled up for her senior year... and waited.

We had months of big moments and milestones, capped off with a glorious graduation day and even a mother-daughter trip with her friends. But, crickets for me in the so-called sadness department. No feeling of impending doom and not a single tear. I, frankly, started to feel a little deficient. While other moms let the waterworks flow, I watched and wondered what is wrong with me? What kind of mom isn't "sad" that her daughter is leaving the nest.

The answer snapped into focus one night in July as my husband and I sat with some of those good friends who now have one year's experience as college parents under their belt. We were catching up on life and then, there it was. The question. "How are you guys feeling about her leaving? Are you getting sad?"

Sad? No. "No, we aren't," I responded, presumptuously answering for both of us. And, I don't think we're going to be sad in September either. Emotional? Yes. Nostalgic? For sure. Off-kilter and empty without our 18-year-old baby girl bopping around the house in sweats or bounding in the front door from lacrosse practice and gleefully opening the oven to smell whatever I'm cooking for dinner? OF COURSE. A lump in my throat just writing those words! But sad? No way, people.

The reason is simple, and as we sat with our friends marinating in great conversation and sipping cocktails, my anti-"sad" argument was formed. "We know sadness. And this isn't it." Now, I don't generally sit around tallying up our hardships, but in this case, I guess I have been doing exactly that.

My best friend of 30 years — who lit up the world like no other — but, couldn’t escape the destructive grasp of the mental health issues that let to her suicide. The deaths of my mom and Dan’s dad in the span of five months. And most recently, the unacceptable, and still unbelievable, passing of my husband’s twin sister at the age of 51. His original better half, stolen by breast cancer.

Now, you probably know what anguish and true sadness feels like, too. So many forms. To me, it’s the emptiness and grief that follows a death -- and an acute understanding something is gone forever and cannot be replaced. Indelibly over.

Ok, sure, in many ways a kid leaving for college is the end of the line and meets some of the just-listed criteria for an aching heart. The daily, face-to-face, all-hands-on-deck parenting of the K-12th years is done. We call that "sad."

Framed against the previously mentioned, heart-piercing events and all the sadness surrounding them, I refuse to let "sad" be a word associated with watching my child’s beautiful, promised-packed college years begin.

Maybe we can just agree to give this moment another name and embrace the all the changes. Change is what it is, after all and this kind is swaddled in hope, excitement, fear and nerves. We've been building toward this incredible life moment for, well, for their whole little lives. How lucky are we to witness and experience their big college crescendo!

This? This moment and this transition? I’m flipping “sad” upside down and labeling my lens "joy." Or maybe it’s just, “love.” And, when my firstborn and I say our campus “goodbye,” I hope my newly defined lens stays steady for the rest of the year. Wish me luck, I hear I’ll need it.


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