September and Back-to-School are times of transition. Whether you’re doing the college drop-off, or sending them off for the first day of kindergarten, and all in between, it’s an emotional time for parents. We asked WHS grad Lindsay Wheeler to give us her perspective in a special message for Wilton parents.

I have never had children of my own (unless you count my dogs, Tubs and Remi). I do have friends who are sending their (real) kids off to school, though, and many of them are having a hard time. On my dogs’ first day of daycare, I fought back the emotions as they ran off without a glance at their trembling mommy. My future children are in for a real treat.

Raising children is all consuming:  attending events based on their interests, meeting people accordingly and watching in proud admiration as they grow. Eventually they will leave for good, creating a strange void, only to induce the what-do-I-do-now response.

Home is where we begin our confusing quest to forge an independent identity. Even though we grow significantly after we leave, we will forever be drawn back to where we cried over college rejections and acceptances, had our first kiss and left our favorite shoes on the hood of the car, only to find one of them days later, mangled in a bush on Range Rd.. A piece of our hearts will always be there at home no matter how full it is elsewhere.

Born in Norwalk in 1992, I moved to Wilton as a kid with my family of four, our black lab and my fat Guinea pig, Lucky. In time, I played field hockey, soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse, discovered I had no talent in theater, graduated from WHS (2010), and ultimately established College Creamery. After four summers running the business with my childhood best friend I sold it to one of the best families I know. The business was just one of many things that drew me back to my hometown; I also have the Chicken Pesto Wheeler sandwich named in my honor at Wilton Deli to eat and a reputation as Wilton’s “Super Fan” to maintain (the Wilton Villager‘s John Nash called me that).

For me, high school was one of the most challenging and divisive periods of my life. Even so, I’m still compelled to come home and actually come back more and more. Now 24 years old and living in Manhattan, I am an associate at a crisis communications firm in the Financial District, and have worked in lifestyle PR, TV media, freelance writing, marketing–and ice cream, of course. Between work, dogs, relationships, entertaining, frequent and overambitious cooking and baking endeavors, running, writing and other hobbies, you would think Wilton would be far from my mind.

But two months ago, when my dog died tragically, home was suddenly in Connecticut again, not NYC. Crossing the finish line of the New York Marathon in 2014, I wanted only to sleep in my Wilton bed. And when I have a particularly strong and indulgent coffee craving, it’s the raspberry white mocha at Coffee Barn that I want.

My mom doesn’t cook (in my lifetime I think she’s made 7 or 8 dinners). She just really just doesn’t like it and fortunately for her, I do. It would surprise her to know that one of my fondest memories of home is of the time when, arriving on a spontaneous visit home from college in Vermont one weekend with my freshman-year roommates (and…Surprise, Mom!…our cat), I walked through the door on that crisp fall night to the smell of crackling chicken skin, caramelizing apricots and candles. The table was set under dim light, a Loreena McKennitt song played softly in the kitchen. I remember the scene in such specific detail because achieving this level of comfort anywhere else–and finding the nostalgic sense of home–just doesn’t work.

After leaving home it no longer feels like an “obligation” to come back, and, in my case, it actually induced a positive mental shift. Events that come to feel ordinary after decades of repetition (like family BBQs, Vermont ski weekends, the annual Thanksgiving football game) suddenly become memories we cling to most dearly. The feeling isn’t a phenomenon that simply “wears off.” We begin to develop a more accurate, adult perspective on how fortunate we are. This manifests in heightened self-awareness, greater respect for the supportive characters in our lives and a better grasp on what a privilege it is to be from Wilton. The effect this process has continues to evolve but it doesn’t fade. After leaving, children become more securely bonded to what we appreciate about home. Past grievances are forgotten and the beauty of what was always there still resonates. We view our own personal histories in a new light, and our roots become a pillar of strength.

There are many practical things that make this transition a little bit easier. Technology offers a major boost–the freedom to have almost face-to-face contact. When I lived in New Zealand for a short time, I found that Skype helped make the 9,000-plus miles between me and my loved ones feel less isolating. Now, living a mere 45 minutes away, I still use it. Compare that to my mom’s generation, when college communication with home was a monthly call on the “hall phone.”

After going through the “detachment process” twice (leaving home once for college and then again for New York), I want to reassure you:  we are always your babies. “Emerging adulthood,” a term coined by psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, is the “great equalizer.” We transition from feeling ‘monitored’ to feeling respected as individuals–a process, however, that doesn’t diminish the reality that there is no place like home with a favorite meal, the old pillows we once sweat out a fever on at age 5, a graying childhood dog and the first people we learned to trust.

This does not change as we secure new relationships, acquire new family and find ourselves, as you are not replaceable. The first steps will be most difficult. But keep living, even if it feels weird and wrong as continuing to do the things you love will be mutually beneficial.

I promise you, at the end of the day, when the phone rings, it will be ringing because the only one your child wants to share the news with is you.

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