Three Words for my College Kiddo

“Three words.” That’s all I have to say and my college kiddo knows exactly what I mean. He tells me he’s heading out on Friday night, and I say, “three words.” He says, “I know, Mama.” And, he does.

I’m the youngest of three sisters, so being “the baby” is a familiar role. Because there are quite a few years separating us (seven and 12, to be exact) , it’s almost like this role is both “youngest” and “only.” It also gives me a special connection to our third kiddo, “the baby” and “youngest” by eight and 12 years to his brother and sister. Perhaps this is why we can talk in three-word code.

By the time I came along and by the time I was in high school and college, my parents had been there and done that. They weren’t going to put up with much, and they didn’t have to. While there are a few things they never knew about those teens and 20s, I was basically a good kid, and I did not have a substance use disorder.

Our college freshman has been through the wringer – with his brother in particular. He’s seen, heard and experienced it all. Substance use and co-occurring mental health set in about 10 years ago. Kiddo No. 3 was in fifth grade while kiddo No. 2 was struggling and we were newbie parents to marijuana, opioids, alcohol and more.

This weekend, he’ll be coming home to Minnesota for spring break – yeah, not the sun and surf spring break he might go on in the future, and not the one I want to think about.

College is off to an excellent start. He’s made friends, adjusted to being 682 miles away, is dating a nice young woman, made the Dean’s List, played intramural sports, and had a chance to visit and get to know Michigan.

Has he been to parties? Yes. Has there been alcohol? Yes. Have there been drugs? Most likely. Has he participated? My hunch is yes to the alcohol and no to the drugs. Have we talked about it? Yes. Have we talked about the risks? Yes. Does he know our concerns? Yes.

My message, and he often repeats it back to me so I know it has resonated with him: Smart, safe and sober. Just knowing that he knows this is my hope and it gives me confidence. Three simple words. For a mom with a kid in recovery and the mom of another kid in college, that’s right up there with the other three words of “I love you.”

Rose McKinney aka Midwestern Mama

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