The day finally came. For 18 years I knew it was coming, and like a dog who hides his head under the couch and thinks nobody can see him, I pretended it never would arrive. And frankly it surprised me how hard it was- how emotional I got.
Yes- for all of you parents out there, you know what this dreaded day was- the day I dropped my first kid off at college. Him finally, and with finality, taking that giant step off on his own. His new roommate has two older siblings (he is #3 of 4) and the day seemed to go pretty smoothly for his parents- this was “old hat” for them. They were there to help him with the logistics of moving into his apartment, getting the curtains hung, moving boxes of clothes and (used) kitchen supplies, testing out the multitude of electrical devices that go with a modern college experience. And then, “OK bud, we’re leaving, have (not too much) fun and call us if you need us, bye.” And they were gone. Faster than a total solar eclipse. Probably high fiving each other on the way home like any sane parent who had just regained some degree of their freedom that had been missing for 18 years.
But for me it was a little different. My kid had a little more dorm room stuff I was dropping off with him than his roommate did. For the most part it was all new- not a lot of “hand me downs” for #1. And it took longer, I had to make that extra trip to Walmart to get that last floor lamp and picture hook. Throughout the day it was no big deal, everything was just happening, as part of the plan that we had know was coming for months and even years, and nothing was too emotional, just getting the “to-do list” knocked out.
Actually, everything about yesterday was positive- my kid is off achieving his dreams, going to stand on his own two feet, and living the life he wants, and not just the one that his parents provide for him. It’s the beginning of a lot of new adventures for him. He’s not that far away and of course I will still be able to see him (I love joking about how it will be great for me to come up and visit him at college on Friday nights…) In fact, if he had not gone off on his own it would have been a much worse day, with the whole “failure to launch” phenomenon looming as a threat to my sanity and checkbook. Yes- it was a good day.
But man, when the time came it was rough. When it was finally time to say goodbye, it hit me like a flood. I went from “put these dishes away, here is your tool box for the laundry cabinet, let’s take those amazon boxes out to the dumpster” to “OMG, my little boy is on his own- he is gone.” And it hurt. A lot.
All I could manage was a hug and a “bye bud, I’ll see you soon,” before I had to go off to the car by myself, all choked up, to avoid a public breakdown. Unexpectedly, it was like every memory that I had of his childhood came back, all at once. The Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas music that was playing the day he was born. The time when he was 12 months old and he ran (not walked) for a mile. The first day the neighborhood pool was open, when he was 3 years old, and he ran straight for the water while I yelled “STOP STOP STOP STOP!!!” and jumped in, and just started swimming around, with no help from dad. That first time on the bike without training wheels when I thought I’d be running up and down the street all afternoon holding him and he immediately just pedaled away on his own, no help required. At kindergarten graduation, when they asked all the kids “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Baseball player, doctor, movie star, fireman, teacher… And my kid wanted to be an “Ice cream man” (driving one of those ice cream trucks that we all warn our kids to avoid). That time after a little league game, when I thought I’d be a good dad and have “the talk” with him, as we got a milkshake at Sonic. I proudly gave him a one minute synopsis of how babies are made, age appropriate of course. He thought about it for a few seconds and said “EWWWWW you and mom had to do that twice??????” And we immediately got back to our milkshake and talking about sizing up the competition for the next baseball game. The day after I got back from nearly 7 months in space, during which time he had gotten his driver’s license, and he said “OK dad, enough medical experiments, we’re going car shopping.” And we did. 26 hours after returning to earth (he drove, I was still too dizzy).
These thoughts just seemed to all come at once. Yes, I know it’s for the best. I know he’s off pursuing his dreams. I know this is so much better than the alternative of him not going off to college. But it’s hard to move on to the next phase, knowing that my time of being his full-time protector and parent are long gone, and it’s now on to the next phase of being more of a friend than parent. It doesn’t matter if your child is going to their first day of school or first date or first summer camp or college or getting married- it’s always tough to move on to the next phase of life. But thank God that these milestones happen. Or life would be boring and stagnant. And kids would really live up to their nickname- “the gift that keeps on taking…”
Have fun at school bud. I’m looking forward to driving up for an occasional round of golf and lunch and talking about which classes to add or drop- and oh yeah, Friday night party. Don’t worry, your friends will think I’m cool. I’m sure you’re looking forward to that too….