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Making a home away from home

Caseelynn Johnston Jenna and Holly Spangler
MATERNAL PAIR: My girl heads to college soon, and you can bet this photo, from this past winter’s Beef Expo, is going on my desk.
Don’t the best stories start with “That one time in college …”? Here’s how we’re gearing up to send our girl to college, with piles of hopes and dreams.

She crossed the porch and stood at the green door, all business. Dress, black blazer, black heels. Squared her shoulders with steely determination. Reached up and rang the doorbell.

That green door was at 4-H House, and we were there for their interviewing weekend this past spring. From my safe spot in the car at the curb, I watched her stand at that door of a million possibilities and crumbled just a little. In a flash, I could see her as a pint-sized preschooler in my high heels, then as now, on fire with intensity, self-determination and a will of steel.

But back to the present. The possibilities.

Jenna heads off to college next month, to the University of Illinois and 4-H House Cooperative Sorority.

My breath catches regularly at the thought of it all. What an adventure she’s about to have. I’m excited for her. And hopeful.

I hope she’ll have every good experience we had and none of the bad or the hard. The best stories start with “That one time in college …” and I hope she has a million of her own.

I hope she’ll make the kind of friends her dad and I found, lifelong friendships that will shape and mold her. Friends who will walk through every hard thing and every good time, no matter what life brings.

And for as excited as she is, she has no idea how these next few weeks will shape the rest of her life. In my first six months of college, I ditched pre-medicine for ag communications, and the boyfriend from home for the man I’d marry. Formative, in every possible way.

She’ll learn more about real life in these next few weeks than in any other time. The independence my little firstborn has always craved will be hers entirely, and she’ll learn to manage it.

Looking back

I came across an observation on social media recently that rang true to my soul. Asked whether it was harder to parent littles or teens, a woman responded that it’s hard in different ways. Little kids require constant supervision, and much of your day is centered around their needs, but the stuff they get upset over has little lasting consequence — like leaving the park or picking up toys. Teenagers are the opposite.

With three teenagers in the house, parenting has shifted to gentle direction. And as Jenna has edged closer and closer to college, we’re guiding even more than directing. A thoughtful question, well-timed, yields far better results than telling her what she should do next. 

The college years mean she may need a little less mothering. But more love, even from afar. And hopefully, a beautiful friendship sifts into those corners, right next to the mothering.

But in the meantime, there’s a transition to make, from our house to the one on campus.

For as long as I live, I’ll remember pulling up to 4-H House in 1994, climbing out of my parents’ Caprice Classic as girls streamed out of the house to call out hello and carry my things upstairs. My parents left, and I turned to a group of women who showed me the way and became my best friends — through thick and thin, at the altar and the grave.

It’s everything we all hope for our kids as they leave home.

So, as our girl steps through that green door, we’ll pray the experience lives up to the stories she’s heard all her life. We’ll pray for the friends. We’ll pray for protection, that God might make the hard stuff not so hard. And if it has to be hard, that she’ll learn what she needs to.

Most of all, we’ll pray that together with the fun, freedom and adventure, He won’t let her lose sight of home.

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