It’s starting. I’m getting that familiar lump in my throat as my kid’s friends take off for parts unknown. Ruby, the ballerina, went first and farthest. She flew to Oklahoma where she’ll dance her way through college. Then, off went the football players, Mo to Southern Connecticut and Malik to AIC. Maya left for Syracuse yesterday and Jaelin heads to UConn tomorrow. Leo and the two Jordans are the last to go. Every day from now until Labor Day another child will leave the nest.
A friend of mine is letting go for the first time.
“How do you do it?” she asked. “I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s going to be like.”
Well, I’m no expert, but I am a seasoned letter-goer. It doesn’t make it any easier, but at least I know what to expect.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a he or a she, an only child or a fourth child, an oldest or a youngest, an extrovert or an introvert, an athlete or an artist, a smart one or a dim one, a favorite child or a serial troublemaker. This is how it goes.
The weeks before he/she leaves will be filled with disagreements, arguments and knock-down-drag-out fights, the likes of which you’ve never before encountered. There will be such personality and behavioral changes that you wonder how you’ll ever survive the short time you have left together. But, interspersed are moments of heart-wrenching kindnesses that make you wonder how you’ll ever be able to say goodbye.
The night before he/she leaves for college, you plan the Last Supper with the whole family, maybe even the extended family, and she tells you that she’s going to Kayla’s barbeque because it’s her last night ever with her friends. And you let her go because you don’t want her last night ever with her family to be miserable. Besides, you’re just serving chopped liver. And when you go to bed at midnight and peek in her room, you see that there is a roomful of packing yet to do. You sigh and close the door knowing you have lost this battle.
And then the morning comes and you load the car for your four-hour, or 24-hour, or forty-minute drive and you make sure you don’t say anything like, “Are you excited?” You speak only when spoken to. And because the earphones are in, and don’t come out, it’s a very quiet ride indeed.
You look for the upperclassmen in khaki shorts and school-colored polo shirts waving you through the maze from which you unload plastic bins filled with rolled-up T-shirts, wheel-less duffel bags toting size 13 shoes and garbage bags holding tangled hangers and everything else that didn’t fit anywhere else. And then there are the super-sized bottles of shampoo, multiple tubes of toothpaste, disposable razors, and two kinds of body wash crammed into the shower caddy that the older brother assured him he’d use, with an aside to the mother, “Just make sure you get him one with swag.”
Somehow, with the help of the father, the siblings, the upperclassmen, the big rolling bins or sheer manpower, you lug everything up the four flights of stairs to the cinder-block dorm room. The roommate is already there and has taken the bed by the window, the closet with a door and the desk that is not missing two drawers. The roommate’s mother is chatty and chipper and is so glad you got there because she has to run so she can catch a younger child’s soccer game. She air-kisses her son goodbye and asks for your phone number.
“I’ll text you so we can coordinate care packages for the boys!” she chirps and flutters away.
You talk non-stop to the roommate because your child is not, and finally, the drawers are filled, the clothes are hung and there’s nothing left to do but say goodbye.
You hug your child tight and know you can’t cry because if you start you may never stop.
And then you leave.
You break down in the car and sob uncontrollably for fifteen minutes and wonder how in the world you’re going to get through the semester.
And then you start thinking about your other kids, the pile of work sitting on your desk, the relatives who are coming for the weekend and all the other things you’ve put to the back of your mind while you’ve been thinking of nothing else but your child leaving. And your thoughts start turning to what is waiting ahead, not who you’ve left behind.
And that’s how life slowly begins to fill the hole in your heart.
Days later, while cleaning your daughter’s empty room you find in the closet not one, but two, empty vodka bottles (or worse) and your eyebrows actually crinkle because you know that she doesn’t drink, because she told you she doesn’t drink. Then you think back to the summer nights with the back door slamming till the wee hours of the morning and wonder what really was going on in your basement while you slept, dismissing all sordid scenarios because, after all, these are the kids you have known and loved and trusted since kindergarten.
He’ll call. He never calls. You’ll be so excited to hear from him that, without a lecture, you send the extra money for brand-new books because he waited too long to buy them used. When you ask if he is enjoying college he’ll say, “Yeah, it’s OK.” And you panic, wondering why he isn’t saying, “I LOVE IT!”
Then your friend shows you Instagram pictures (because she follows your son, but you are not allowed) and it sure looks like he’s having the time of his life.
Before you know it the calls fade to texts and when you ask, “How are your classes?” it will be two days before you get a response.
You have no choice but to believe her because this isn’t high school and there are no alerts from the school warning you that your daughter has failed a test, or cut a class, or never showed up. And you just have to hope you don’t get that dreaded call a month before graduation, “Mom, I’m six credits short.”
And then, just like that, it’s winter break. Your son is home for four full weeks and you can hardly wait to spend time with him. You fill the refrigerator and fluff up his pillows and put his thread-bare stuffed moose on his bed. He is home for exactly fourteen minutes before he rushes out the door. You lie awake waiting for the sound of the back door to slam, but it never does and eventually you fall asleep. In the morning you see a text that says, “Sleeping at Kris’s,” and you wonder how in the world you’re going to make it through the month.
And believe me, he is thinking the very same thing.