Sending Our Son To College During the COVID-19 Pandemic


This Is Not What We Prepared For

I’ve been waiting for the tears for 17 years. Nate started preschool before he was three years old. I was proud he potty trained early and was eager to “go to school.” He was only four years old when he started kindergarten. I didn’t cry because my cute little guy was fiercely independent and couldn’t wait to get into the classroom. When we lived in Oklahoma, parents were shocked I wouldn’t hold my child back a year in order “to be bigger for sports.” I didn’t cry when he went to middle school, even though he was tiny compared to his classmates. When he started high school a few short years later in Albuquerque, I got a little nervous.

I wasn’t the mom who cried at these milestones. That was until we were faced with sending our son to college during a global pandemic. This is not the college experience we prepared for.

College During COVID

Leading up to the move-in weekend we, like many other families, were inundated with questions and what-if scenarios surrounding kids going back to school during this unprecedented global pandemic. Are they taking online classes? Are they letting all those kids back on campus? I’ve heard comments such as, “Well, I’M NOT PAYING for my kid just to go online only!” or “I wouldn’t LET my kid go to school right now.” It’s easy to make those statements. But after a lot of discussion as a family, we let Nate decide.

We have read, reread, and watched all the college information on their plans for reopening in the fall. Would I choose to go? It doesn’t matter. It’s his choice. What would it look like for us to withhold our support because we disagree with his decision? It wasn’t too long ago (okay it was, but I still remember it vividly) that I was in his position. And you could not keep me from moving as far away from my home as possible.

Before our 5-hour drive, I snuck out to drop our dog off at the kennel for the night. I cried then. I cried a few times before that too, but I took that time to feel the emotions so I could acknowledge and accept them. That time alone gave me the chance to give myself a sweet pep talk. I told myself, “Don’t talk too loud. Let Nate do all the talking. Just be there to answer his questions. Offer up a grocery run for food and snacks for the dorm. Don’t volunteer to do anything unless he asks. Just maintain.”

This Wasn’t About Me. This Was About Him

When I returned, Nate and his dad were busy loading Nate’s car with the plethora of dorm room necessities I had been buying for six months. No matter how many lists we’ve made, I was sure we would find things he would still need when we got there. I’m a planner, and I organize things. Nate was cool as a cucumber, but I’m sure a million emotions and questions were going through his mind. I quickly realized this wasn’t about me; this was about him. I watched him pull out of the driveway since he was driving his car and himself to school, and we were following with his younger brother in my minivan.

packing the car

When we arrived at the hotel, I noticed tensions between him and his brother were rising. Typical arguments I’m used to hearing, especially since we’ve all been at home more often due to the global pandemic. I know Edison was projecting his nervousness and sadness about seeing his brother leave.

The worst part about that night wasn’t the fighting. It wasn’t the impending goodbyes the next morning; it was our collective gasp at the restaurant we chose to eat at. No one wore a mask; people were in parties bigger than four people, shaking hands, hugging, etc. I had this sudden urge to pack up everyone and drive back home that very moment.

College Move-In Day

The next morning, my husband went with Nate to pick up his Student ID before his scheduled move-in timeslot. This allowed me and Edison to get some breakfast, and we chose to drive through since we weren’t comfortable dining inside anywhere after the previous night’s experience. We drove to a beautiful park near campus and just had a friendly chat while we killed some time. I got a glimpse of what the next few years with only my youngest will be like. I’m looking forward to it.

move-inThe move-in time came, and we met his college roommate. We unloaded all the boxes he said “were too many, Mom!” in two short trips and started helping him unpack. I was making a list of things he either forgot or that he decided he wanted. We left him to make our final run to Target, and once we got back, it was time to say goodbye. He let me take a quick photo of him. (He didn’t fight me for once about taking his picture!). Then he walked us out to the car, hugged his brother, hugged his dad, and finally, me. I held him tight, told him I loved him, and to call if he needed anything.

saying goodbyeOverwhelmed With Pride

Expecting to be overwhelmed with sadness, I surprised myself. I was overwhelmed with pride. My son was facing life head-on with determination and strength while also dealing with uncertainties surrounding a global pandemic. We raised Nate to be independent and driven. He needed to leave and go explore what life without mom and dad there 24/7 is really like. He decided to go and assured us he would take precautions to avoid getting sick and also potentially exposing others. Isn’t that what we’re all doing right now anyway? We can’t avoid every risk, but we take precautions as best we know-how. My hope is that he explores all the possibilities in front of him and builds a life full of adventure, success, and happiness.

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sending our son to college during Covid, ABQ Mom