Parent Perspective

September 1, 2011

Dean Greg Kneser

Taking Flight
By Jodi Hill

Third floor, corner room. Lofted bed, large window. Emily, our youngest, has a new home. We moved most items Friday, her music audition day. Then Saturday came. The sun was shining and the air was fresh and cool as my husband, Rich, Emily, and I pulled into St. Olaf for the final good-bye. First-year students and parents were everywhere, moving bedding, furniture, and clothing from SUVs to dorm rooms. To our delight, things were arranged to make move-in a breeze: we never felt hurried or had to wait. Parked just feet from the dorm door, we unpacked the last items — full-length mirror, laptop, clothing, quilt — and ascended the open stairwell to her new home on the top floor. Determined to do one more “mom” thing before she was officially launched, I climbed the ladder to her bed and wrestled sheets and blankets over and under her twin-sized mattress. The handmade quilt, signed by family and friends, was the final piece put in place. I was done making a home for her, with her. Today she makes her own home.

Loose-end tie-up came next: piano audition, work-study assignment, flute lesson scheduling. Along the way, old friends were encountered, new friends made. Parents eyed each other knowingly; we were all struggling. Students happily grouped and gabbed about what lay ahead.

We sat in the plaza and munched burgers and chips at the college’s picnic lunch. Then she disappeared, off to a friend’s dorm room. She was gone for hours. Rich and I sat, realizing this was a good sign, yet hating that we were missing these last moments with her.

Dutifully, we went to the meeting for first-year parents while she went to the meeting for first-year students. Then four o’clock came, the official first-year welcome ceremony in the gymnasium. In caps and gowns, with trumpet fanfare, the faculty processed in. We sang a hymn. Speakers spoke. I rubbed her back, stroked her hair, straightened her necklace; she let me, she didn’t resist. Tears streamed, I wiped them away. The college pastor said a prayer. Then came the benediction and recessional — it was over. Parents were instructed to say good-bye, students were to move immediately to the field house. Dads smiled bravely, moms dabbed dripping eyes. Hugs flooded the room. I held her tight, stroked her cheek, looked into those beautiful eyes, and said, “Good-bye sweetie, love you.” She hugged me back and said, “I love you, Mom.”  She hugged her dad, then kissed his cheek. We turned away as she turned away. I turned back but could not find her — she had become part of the mass of first-year students moving the other way.

Rich and I wandered a bit, forgetting where the car was parked. It was okay, we had time … lots of time. Eventually, it came into view. As I reached for the car door, two birds emerged from under the front bumper and flew away, one right after the other. My eyes widened and jaw dropped. Knowing Emily was more ready for this than I was, God, undoubtedly, put them there to make sure I got the message: Charles, our son, and Emily are in flight, finding their wings, learning to soar. Our nest is empty, time to let go; the work is done.

I watched the online live stream of the opening convocation ceremony on the first day of classes. It was lovely, well done. She is in good hands, is ready for this, and has everything she needs. God is with her and she with Him. What more I could ask for, I do not know …

One chapter has ended, a new one about to begin. For now, I sit in the white, print-less space between chapters crying. Grief is good, not to be skirted. I’m allowed, but must not linger. A new chapter calls. I can almost … yep, almost … see it from here.

Jodi Hill is the proud parent of Emily Hill ’14, a vocal music education major. Since "letting go" last year, Jodi has launched a freelance writing company, Word by Word; spent months as a volunteer worker with the Iona Community on the isle of Iona, Scotland; road tripped to Boston to visit her son, Charlie, a physics major at Boston University; and is currently enjoying these last summer days with Emily before classes begin again. Jodi and her husband, Rich, are graduates of Gustavus Adolphus College who, for Emily's sake, muster an Um! Yah! Yah! now and again. The Hills reside in Independence, Minnesota.

YOUR TAKE: Do you have a story to share about letting go? Can you relate to Jodi’s story or did you have a different experience? Or perhaps you’re preparing to part with your first-year student and have questions for parents who have been there before. Continue the discussion on the Facebook page we’ve created just for parents.

If you’d like to contribute your own essay to the Parent Perspective section of this e-newsletter, please contact Kari VanDerVeen at