Morning everyone. This is my first day with child No. 2 off to college in Ohio. As my two 10-year-olds say, “Life is going to be a lot duller now.”
In the last few weeks, I’ve read blog posts and essays about the heartache of sending a child off to college. Parents have described sitting in their child’s empty room and wiping away the tears.
Yes, I’ve experienced some tears. Also prolonged laughter, singing and shouts of joy.
On Saturday, my No. 2 child traveled 700 miles away to experience life outside the nest, and none too soon.
It is time — it has been time — for this child to be on the wing. To enjoy the freedom of sleeping until 4 p.m. in his own dorm room. To share with the rest of the world the hip-hop beats that he likes to mix at dawn.
Henceforward, he will be free from the kind of conversations that begin:
“When are you coming home?”
“Why do you want to know?”
In other words, this is a win-win deal. We all come out ahead. Except my bank account. (Tuition, room and board = one kidney. Peaceful sleep = Priceless.)
I ran into a mom who packed her son off to college a year ago. When I complained that my young one’s sleep-wake cycle inverted this summer, she said it happens to most 18-year-old boys.
“I was so sleep-deprived the summer before my son left for college that I felt like a new mom again,” she said.
(“New mom” doesn’t mean all young and dewy, by the way. It means waking up every three hours to your baby’s screams and wails.)
My Nocturnal Son does not travel the night alone. His friends also come to life after hours, while the rest of the world wastes the precious darkness with its eyes closed.
One recent evening, some time after midnight, he and five friends set out to see the latest special-effects movie, “District 9.” Later that week they were at Georgia State in the middle of the night, dropping in on a buddy already in college.
“Wasn’t Jacob in bed?” I asked.
“Oh no, he had three people there already.”
We’ve talked about this a lot, and I’m done with it. (Blue-in-the-face is not my best look.) Young Count Dracula isn’t going to change – at least, not for me.
Yes, he has a job, and it suits his lifestyle to a T: working at a bar/restaurant that closes at 3 a.m. But it also means that in the past few weeks, he’s been asleep during the hours that most of his future classmates have been out running errands, getting ready to leave home, buying extra-long sheets and returning the library books they finally found under the bed. That doesn’t bother him a bit of course, even if it does worry his mother.
Will he get an ATM card? Has he secured a bicycle carrier? Does he know that it snows in Ohio? Is he planning on bringing any footwear other than classic Chuck Taylors?
Perhaps I was spoiled by No. 1 child, a young lady with excellent planning skills. She will graduate in this, her third year of college. She has enjoyed two different semesters abroad, and has traveled on her own extensively, moving from Dubrovnik to Frankfurt to Sydney with ease and confidence.
She does tend to buy overpriced boots, but when it snows at least she has boots.
Her competence could be an X-chromosome thing. Another friend with a son in high school told me he called one afternoon from the road, saying that he had a problem.
“The little light in the gas gauge came on.”
“What do I do now?”
Maybe, buy some gasoline?
At this point in her college career, my daughter and her future freshman roommate were already fast friends online. In that regard, too, my son is a very different animal. Maybe after living together for a few weeks, he and his roommates may get around to actually exchanging names.
Yet college-age sons do have their advantages. Unlike my friends with daughters, I haven’t had to make three trips to Ikea looking for matching sheets and comforter sets. I haven’t started to worry about books because he hasn’t even started to think about books.
And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. When I went to college I hopped in my Volkswagen Beetle, beeped the horn and took off. I didn’t have an entourage, Mom and Dad didn’t come along to haul my TV and hotplate up the stairs, in part because I didn’t have a TV or a hotplate.
My husband’s experience was similar, except he left home on the train, with nothing more than he could carry: suitcase, trumpet, backpack, portable typewriter.
These days no self-respecting helicopter parent would toss their young ones out the door with such abandon. I still have amusing memories of a co-worker’s conversations with his offspring, discussing term papers that the Dad was editing for the Child.
The grad-student Child.
So a little abandon can be a good thing around this time, and high school boys encourage and practically demand it:
Stop talking to me, they say. Stop looking at me. Stop thinking about me.
Well, we won’t stop thinking about you. We will be thinking sweet thoughts about you, and missing you.
Once you’re gone.