Parent learns letting go isn’t one-time event

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

“Take out pencil and paper, please,” the speaker instructed, “and write this down.”

Three hundred and fifty parents rustled through their notes grabbing pens and pencils. The Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs slowly recited the ten-digit code – her home telephone number.

“Call me,” she said, “if you are concerned about your ‘babies.'”

Our “babies,” the playful term she used to describe our children throughout her lecture, were among the 3,715 incoming freshmen at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Melissa Exum’s topic, “Letting Go,” was part of a two-day orientation session to ease both parents and students into college life.

“They are going to be OK,” Dr. Exum concluded with a warm and confident smile.

As the crowd dispersed, I sighed with a smile, comforted by her words and impressed by her generous gesture of sharing her phone number.

I relaxed too soon, however.

My cell phone beeped with a message from my daughter, Brittany, returning with the other freshmen.

“Mom, we have a big problem with math.”

“OK,” I replied. “Let’s talk.”

She scooted into the room, slipped into the chair beside me and explained.

Somehow, she had not taken a prerequisite test. It could affect her major. Her graduation date. She may need summer school. And the one class that could prevent her from getting behind was already full.

Tension crept back into my mental grip. “Letting go” would have to wait a bit longer.

My mind raced. How did that happen? I thought we read every e-mail and opened every piece of mail. We received at least four notices for extra-long linens. How did we not know about this requirement?

Problem-solving mode prevailed, masking my panic as we calmly examined the facts and made a plan. We learned that a make-up test was offered, but not until October. We must find a test site, register and secure transportation. We must find a way to get that class.

We. Right. I am supposed to be “letting go.” But I couldn’t leave my daughter with only a plan. My grip tightened once more.

I needed names.

Alone at the hotel, I dug out that ten-digit code and called the “Letting Go” lecturer – at 6 p.m. on a Thursday night in the middle of dinner – and asked her advice.

Surprised, but gracious, she listened to the problem.

“I am trying to ‘let go,’ Dr. Exum, but I need to understand the follow-up. Who will help my daughter after I leave?”

“The dean of academics,” she replied. “Dean Cannon spoke just before I did today and is available for parents during lunch tomorrow.”

“Perfect,” I said and thanked her.

“I will ‘let go,'” I promised. “I just have to feel good about leaving her.”

The next day Brittany and I lunched at a table where we could scan the crowd as they entered the cafeteria. Beaming in her red dress, Dean Carolyn Cannon emerged, her name tag prominently hanging around her neck. We introduced ourselves, and I explained the situation.

After listening to me, she paused and turned to Brittany, carefully reviewing each step she should take.

Suddenly, I was the sidekick.

Brittany asked questions, probed for details and tucked Dean Cannon’s card in her purse.

Proud of her initiative (and my unspoken words), I relaxed again – for the moment.

Since then, I’ve learned that letting go is more of a process – not an event. Although our grips eventually relax and we find new ways to connect, there are always loose ends and new obstacles ahead.

But as Tennessee Williams reminds us, “There is a time for departure, even when there is no certain place to go.”