Joe, Jake and I hit the road to Bloomington, IN yesterday morning around 7 am with a fully loaded SUV. I had been exchanging messages with the girls. Michelle seemed to be adjusting well, connecting with a girl from Naperville North and hanging out with Jane and her friends. Her roommate is a sophomore and therefore has her own circle of friends.

We arrived after noon and moved Michelle’s boxes to her room. It’s a pretty small room with bunker beds, a desk and a closet for each of the girls. Jane had orientation from noon to 3 pm. So Michelle started unpacking after we came back from lunch. Upon Jane’s arrival, we drove a couple of miles to her 4-bedroom apartment, unloaded her belongings, met her roommates and headed to the College Mall for a mini refrigerator, a microwave, kitchen stools and some other things on their list. It was like Christmas time at the mall. Some of the essentials had already been wiped out from the Target shelves. Michelle jokingly said all these people and cars gave her anxiety. I knew what she meant.

After another round of unloading, we got to Jim’s place, picked him up and went to dinner. There was some kind of a festival going on in downtown Bloomington. A big crowd gathered around the six colorful belly dancers who were quite lovely. Towards the end of dinner, Jake asked Jim if he was coming home to Naperville with us.

That was when Michelle chimed in, “Take me home with you. I want to sleep on my own bed.” She looked sad, which made me sadder. It was the first sign of Michelle’s homesickness.

Two years ago, Jane acted all grown up and more than ready to take off for college. She and I were on good terms when she left home but there was tension. I texted her a few times everyday just to say ‘hi’ and see how she was doing. On the third night, it was late and I thought I’d drop her a message just to say ‘goodnight.” Her response stunned me.

“I miss you MOM, and dad, and Michelle, and Jake and Joey!!!!!! I can’t wait to see you on Saturday!!!!!”

For a while, Jane’s facial expressions and body language had transmitted a clear message, “You don’t understand me and therefore leave me alone.”

But her text indicated for the first time in a few years that she still needed her mom and her family. That was the turning point of our relationship. We’ve had many more meaningful dialogues after that. In one conversation, I apologized to her for being too critical when she was younger, which probably didn’t help her self-esteem.

“Don’t be sorry, mom. It’s all good now.” Jane wrote back.

After dinner, we dropped off Jane and Jim and hugged goodbye. Michelle expressed concern that she might get lost on the first day of school. She has no sense of direction just like me. We advised her to leave for class early and ask for help if she couldn’t find her way. This morning she told me that she was going to walk her class schedule today in preparation for first day of the semester tomorrow.

Saying goodbye to Michelle was harder. Believe me, I wanted to take her home and keep her under my wings. But it was time for my almost-adult child to fly on her own. So I held her tight for a few seconds, burst into tears and then let go (not an Asian thing to do, I know. But I don’t care). It has been an emotional week, more difficult than I thought it would be.

According to statistics, one third of college freshmen fail to make it to their sophomore year. And fifty percent fail to graduate at all. So the first few weeks and months are critical. Stay connected, let them know they can make it and you are only a phone call away if they ever need you. Do give them ample time and space to figure things out by themselves. Most importantly, believe in yourselves and the good enough job you’ve done in the past 18 years to prepare them for this new phase of their lives.