When I was a junior in high school looking at colleges, I wrote away to about 10 schools in the state of Virginia requesting application information. I had never had one school that I was dying to attend all my life as some kids do, and I had no idea where I wanted to go. All I knew was I wanted to be a teacher.
At first I focused my college search in my home state of Virginia. Most of my friends were looking at Virginia schools because there are so many good colleges available, and in-state students get reduced tuition rates, so most kids don’t see the need to leave the state for college.
I was intimated at the idea of a big state college, so I started writing away to smaller schools. I thought a small private women’s college might be cool (Virginia has quite a few) so I requested admissions packets from several of those. I also requested packets from several small to mid-size co-ed state schools. I might have talked about one more than another for a time, but no one college truly beckoned me.
There was only one out-of-state school I considered: Gordon College, a smallish Christian liberal arts college just north of Boston, Massachusetts.
There was something enchanting about attending college in the Northeast . . . about going far away from everything that was familiar, somewhere none of my friends were going, and doing my own thing.
My aunt had gone to Gordon College, and my mom would talk wistfully of it. She had wanted to go away to school but her family couldn’t afford it at the time so she went to a nearby state school in Maine. By the time her sister came along many years later, the family’s finances were such that she was able to go away to a private college and she chose Gordon.
The summer before my senior year of high school, when I was knee-deep in college application packets from Virginia schools, my family took their annual vacation to Maine. We decided to stop and tour Gordon College on the way. We flew into Boston and met my aunt who still lived in the area, and she took me over to see the campus.
I remember getting off the plane that day, walking into that crisp, cool, New England summer air, and declaring passionately, “I have to live here!!!!!”
I think I knew then that’s where I’d end up.
My mom encouraged me without trying to influence my decision. It wasn’t like she was trying to live vicariously through me, but I sensed that she would be pleased to give me an opportunity that she couldn’t have — if that is what I wanted.
After touring the campus, I came home and sent out one single college application — to Gordon College.
I was accepted and we began to make our arrangements.
I loved my college experience and living in the Boston area. I’ve never regretted going so far from home. A tiny piece of my heart still belongs to Massachusetts.
The summer before my senior year of college (I stayed in the area for the summer to work), I met a boy from Philly. He was attending a nearby seminary preparing to be a pastor, and our relationship took off rather quickly.
A few days after our first date, my parents drove up from Virginia to pick me up on their way to Maine for our annual family vacation.
I remember saying to my mom, the first second I saw her and had a chance to tell her about my new boyfriend, “I think I’m in very intense like!”
You have to understand, for me, that was pretty serious. I had never dated much, and I wasn’t one to fall in love at first sight. I’d always been very practical where boys are concerned. I’m sure I talked of little else on that trip. Paul and I chatted on the phone a few times during my vacation, and I looked forward to getting back to Massachusetts to see him.
My mom told me as we were sitting around the camp one of those lazy days in Maine, “He’s the one.”
And she was right, even though I didn’t know it at the time. In fact, it would be many months before I was sure he was “the one” — but she knew even before she met him.
When I questioned her as to why she would say that, she just shrugged and said, “The time is right. You’re at that age.”
And then: “I always knew when I sent you away to college that you’d never come home.”
It hit me then, the sacrifice of love she made when she encouraged me to attend college in Massachusetts rather than go somewhere close to home.
As a parent, she had the power to keep me close to home. She could have easily told me she couldn’t afford to send me out of state to school. It would have been perfectly reasonable for her to require me to choose a less expensive state school — there were plenty of good ones.
She also had the power as a parent to manipulate me into making a decision to stay in state, by subtly influencing my choices, had that been her parenting style.
She chose to do neither.
My mom knew what an amazing experience it would be for me to go away, how much it would do for my confidence and my personal growth. But she also knew that I’d probably never come back home to stay.
As a mom with three kids still under my own roof, I often think about the choice she made back then. I realize that there’s no guarantee that I’d have stayed in Virginia forever had I chosen a college in my home state, but it was pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn’t come back if I went away.
Nowadays we sometimes commiserate that I don’t live closer so that she can see my kids more, but we have no regrets. We both know I’m in the right place, and I am so very thankful for her sacrificial love — for putting my wants and needs above her desires.
I had someone tell me once that it was her job as a mother to give her kids roots and wings. I love that analogy, and now that I have kids of my own, I guess I’m in the roots stage of parenting. Giving kids roots is no easy task, for sure. But I also realize how hard it’s going to be when it comes time to give them their wings.
My mother wanted me to have the opportunity to spread my wings and fly. Whatever that might look like for me, she couldn’t have known, but she knew that she could give me the chance by letting me go.
My greatest wish for each of my kids is that they will have the opportunity to chart their own paths. As I look ahead in my parenting journey, I know that I will have similar forks in the road. There will come a time when I have the power to hold my kids back or let them go, and I can only hope that I have the wisdom and the confidence to let them fly when the time is right.
What is your greatest wish for your children? Do you have one defining moment in your life that you feel you changed your path forever? I’d love for you to tell me about it.