It’s official! We have a college student in the house. Or, more precisely, out of the house. Last month we moved Sam into his dorm room, and he has successfully completed his first two weeks at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Goodbyes are never fun, and Sam endured a lot of them before he left: his dogs, his soccer buddies, his girlfriend, his sister. We cooked his favorite meals during his last week at home, from chicken noodle and Zuppa Toscana soups to homemade marinara for a Big Red sendoff. (I even attempted homemade pho, but will leave that to the professionals in the future.) Family friends popped over with college survival goodie bags the night before he left. Those who love him most loved him up!
Sam put off packing until the final days before departure, but somehow it all came together in the end. There were moments of concern on my part, most notably when he asked why he needed to pack towels. He was under the impression that a dorm’s community bathroom was akin to the Alaska Club facilities. Let the learning curve begin!
Maggie didn’t want to miss the first days of her junior year or the start of her flag football season, so she said her goodbyes to Sam in Anchorage. It wasn’t easy. Sam’s move is an emotional adjustment for her as well, as she’s never known life without a pesky brother across the hall. She rallied and did a great job taking care of herself, our home, and pets while we were gone, and was rewarded with plenty of fresh Nebraska produce upon our return. The ultimate souvenir! The night we left, she was our airport chauffeur.
Clark, Sam, and I flew overnight and landed in Omaha around noon the next day. After a quick bowl of pho with my parents and sister (prepared by professional chefs this time) we borrowed a car from my parents and headed to Lincoln. Sam drove across I-80, eagerly creating a mental map of his new home.
An hour later we pulled up to Selleck Hall, one of the older dorms on campus, built in the 1950’s. It has a prime location and Sam couldn’t wait to pick up his key card. Finally, excitement started to eclipse the difficult goodbyes from the night before.
His room is tiny. And old. I can actually smell these photos, but look at that grin on his face. Pure elation! Neighbors started knocking within minutes of our arrival, and everything felt right. It was time to let go of any worries and trust the universe.
It only took an hour to unpack his clothes and make the bed, so we didn’t stay long. We made quick Target run for hygiene items, and then headed an hour north for one last family dinner with all the grandparents.
The Nebraska skies put on a gorgeous show for Sam’s arrival!
The next morning we returned to Lincoln and dropped Sam off at his dorm. For real.
I expected the final phase of moving to take all afternoon, but there wasn’t anything to do. He had zero interest in decorating his dorm, and certainly didn’t need our help unpacking the shampoo and face wash we purchased the day before. We made small talk with his roommate, hauled up the last bag of his stuff, and all too soon we were standing at the curb saying goodbye. I tried not to cry, but failed miserably.
I hugged him briefly but tightly, hoping 18 years of love would make up for every word I couldn’t find in that moment. This was goodbye for four months, not forever. Did he know I was already counting the days until winter break?
Aaaaand that was it. Clark and I motored north for one more family dinner before catching a flight back to Alaska the following morning.
As for Sam, there were plenty of events to keep him busy during the Big Red Welcome weekend. The Class of 2026 had the opportunity to participate in the iconic tunnel walk, where they charged the field and formed an “N.” There were barbecues and picnics, club fairs and block parties.
He is launched! He is proudly paying 100% of his college expenses for first semester, with the help of several scholarships he earned. If all goes well, we will kick in a “parental scholarship” in December as well. He has two huge lecture hall classes, but the rest are small and he seems to enjoy them all regardless. He spends a lot of time playing ping pong with his roommate. He found a barber. He likes the dining hall food, and occasionally sends us photo evidence that he’s eating vegetables. He’s meeting new friends, while occasionally spending time with nearby family.
Sam just did a really hard thing. He moved thousands of miles from his home, his immediate family, and every friend in his world. He stepped out of his comfort zone in a way many people never do. We are so proud of his courage and the investment he is making in his future.
Our family is adjusting. Sam’s moving day loomed all summer, and it put us in a strange state of limbo. Some days I nearly hyperventilated at the thought of his leaving, realizing a major phase of my life was coming to an end. Other days I brimmed with pure excitement for him, knowing how much growth comes with the college years. And then there were the nights he’d roll into the driveway at 3 AM, and I do not miss those worrisome moments at all!
Every parent knows the deal when you have a child: we don’t get to keep them for life. We raise them to launch them, as hard as it may be.
Whenever we are faced with a difficult goodbye, Clark sings us the lyrics from Closing Time by Semisonic:
These words have never been truer for our family. An 18-year phase of life is coming to an end, and it’s healthy to honor the emotions that come with such enormous change.
This is also the beginning of something new, the start of something we can’t yet imagine.
And of course some things will never change. He can move across town, across the country, or across the world, but we will never be out of touch. His dad will keep singing dorky songs, his sister will text photos of the dogs, and I’ll always have a warm pot of soup ready for his return.
There’s just no escaping this family. He may be launched, but he’ll always be loved.