The son seldom rises. (At least until 4 in the afternoon.)

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.”
Yes? And?
“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.

14 comments Add your comment


August 24th, 2009
6:42 am

I just sent my oldest off to school this past weekend though we did not have to drive far to get there. He rationalized he only needed ‘necessities’ initially since it would not be difficult to get other things that were needed (there is good and bad this). The move was extremely organized. Teams of students were there to help us move his things to his room which made unloading a breeze.

It was interesting watching what other families were bringing to help their children move it. I saw several large flat screen TV’s (I had an old 12″ black and white), futons, and other interesting comforts from home. I wondered where would some of this stuff fit in a small college dorm room.

His younger brother moved into his room. There was extra food left over after dinner. Our oldest is now beginning the next chapter of his life. We will continue to make sure his siblings are as prepared as he was. Helping them with homework on Sunday brought this back home.

Old School

August 24th, 2009
6:53 am

(with tongue firmly in cheek) Empty Nest is the very reason we had kids! Actually, we’ve always thought our job as parents was to give them the opportunity and encouragement at each phase and educational level to best prepare themselves for the next. So while we missed them, there was never any wailing or gnashing of teeth in their empty rooms (actually still aren’t exactly empty as their stuff still awaits!)

We feel like we laid a strong but flexible foundation and they are both building happy, successful, fulfilling lives. . . just like we hoped (and figured) they would. It’s a big ol’ world and they are comfortable in any corner of it.


August 24th, 2009
9:08 am

Just read the column in the paper and was so happy to find out that I wasn’t alone! My son left for college at 18, and not a moment too soon. When I see parents of young children holding their sons back, all I can think is that they are going to end up with a 19 (or even 20) year-old male living under their roof full time before the kid graduates from high school! I love my son and I’m fairly confident that he’ll get it all figured out before he graduates and actually has to earn a living. Everything seems to happen right on schedule and 18 is definately high time to leave the nest!


August 24th, 2009
9:25 am

My son has now entered his second year of college. This time last year, I was worried to death about him. The first year you feel the need to reach out constantly to make sure they are ok. You call, you email, you go visit them on campus. Is he eating? Is he sleeping? Is he drinking? Is he studying? Can he figure out the wash machine? Can he find the wash maching??!?!?

This year, we couldn’t wait for him to leave. The entire dynamic of the house changed in the year he was away and he throws it all off when he is back home.

We still love him dearly, but he’s ready to be on his own. And, we are ready for that also!

32 Years In

August 24th, 2009
9:42 am

I insisted both of my children have the dorm experience. The elder went to an apartment after the first year (his roommate was selling drugs and my son didn’t appreciate the middle of the night raid by campus police). Obviously, he has not kept in touch with this roommate but made several other good friends in college who remain a part of his life.
My daughter loved her dorm experience so much she continued to live on campus (Honors College kids stay in dorms on the historic Horseshoe part of campus) the entire 4 years. She continued her education there for her MBA and loved her years of University life.
I was never a hovering parent (as an educator I believe in developing independence in a child) but we were always a part of the moving experience EVERY year for our daughter. No large flatscreen TV’s involved, but just a lot of “stuff” my pack rat daughter accumulated during her University (and sorority) experiences. My empty nest syndrome came when she joined the workforce. No more two week Christmas breaks when you know they’re around for at least a week or more. Once they’re in the “real world” time off is limited and precious, and visiting parents isn’t always at the top of the list.
I love my son and daughter and am proud of the adults they have become. They were able to do this with our love and guidance, not as hovering “helicopter” parents, but parents who gave them the freedom to explore their options and make their own decisions.


August 24th, 2009
10:00 am

Our son entered into the college life on July 5 (footballer) yet, my husband and I are still adjusting. We no longer get teary as fast as we once did. We’re growing stronger day by day…….


August 24th, 2009
10:27 am

My son left four years ago… I did not move him in to the dorm. I was out of town for a business trip.

He is now back home for a bit as he is starting Pharmacy School and we live only 20 miles away.
He lived his first year in the dorm and enjoyed his room mate. They both moved to an apartment the second year and had various other room mates ( in the next few years) who were not considerate. The most recent two had dogs that peed and pooped all over the common room…..YUCK.

My husband said the odor was horrendous, when he went to help him move back to our finished basement. Our son is TAKING HIS TIME and will again move out but tells us that he will not move in with anyone who has pets. He likes his freedom and living on his own.

He was gone for 4 years and it is interesting to have him back home. A much more mature young man. I enjoy chatting with him each day.

My daughter is a senior and I am sure the trip to college ( next fall) will be a more involved one for me.

@32 years in…I loved your post and especially the last few lines!

Concerned Dad

August 24th, 2009
10:47 am

I just read you column. We sent our only child, a 18 year old boy to college. I think your right about the X-chromosome thing, because my son didn’t seem to plan a thing. My son is coping well with college, but my wife finds it hard, especially at around 6:30PM when the whole family should be home, but of course our son is missing.

As a dad, I have learned a few things, more hideen fee’s the college didn’t mention, “salvia”, a new drug some roommate is using, co-ed dorms, plus hundred’s of other items. I find myself getting concerned, but hopefully we taguht him how to handle things and he will learn what life is about and turn into a “Man”. I am not sure if we, (mom and dad) can handle it though.

Dr. John Trotter

August 24th, 2009
10:48 am

Maureen: I really enjoyed this artilce. I am sure that your son will miss you too! When he gets settled in, he will realize just how much his mother has always taken care of him. Girls and boys are different. Most girls tend to be more didy, neat, and organized than boys. I recently found all kinds of discarded snacks boxes and empty two liter drink bottles in my sons’ closets. When they and their friends are playing some serious video games, they just don’t have time to put an empty boxes of Little Debbies (one of their favorite snacks) in a waste basket. The closet floor will do just fine, thank you! Mo, you are not alone! Great artcle. Very funny and poignant.

Dr. John Trotter

August 24th, 2009
10:52 am

“how much” to “how well.” Sorry about this. “didy” to “tidy.” “artclë” to “article.” Perhaps I need to edit my submissions! I am not on my regular computer but on a lap top which drives me crazy sometimes.

Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz

August 24th, 2009
11:33 am

Began my Monday morning with reading your column, as always, and am reminded of a poem I wrote when my first-born went off. Will share here. Also to say that, like yours, our experience with our girl was totally different from with our boy. But both made it through…as their own selves. Enjoy your quieter homestead!
More of my published poems (and books) for kids and parents and teachers on my blog and site at

Letting Go

You’re eighteen now
and fully grown,
And there you go–
off on your own.
We’ve planned for this
for all these years;
That’s why we’re smiling…
through our tears.

Copyright © 1997-2009 Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz
(yes, I wrote another version for kindergarten entry)

jim d

August 24th, 2009
12:22 pm

“Does he know that it snows in Ohio?”

Ms. Downey,

Allow me to correct that statement. It only snows in portions of Ohio, the rest just gets several feet of “LAKE EFFECTS” :)

Our son returned to school, to begin his Soph. yr, this weekend as well, at what has been described as the #1 college bargin in the South. Since he is on an Army Contract, I have little doubt he will allow the school to disrupt the party. He will be returned to us in 7-11 years unless he decides to make it a career.

To learn more about Military contracts visit

On a personal note, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the young men and women that chosen to serve our country.


August 24th, 2009
5:49 pm

Ms. Downey, I am astounded that your son is allowed to ask you why you are inquiring about his whereabouts/plans while he is living in your home and under your financial sponsorship.


August 24th, 2009
7:20 pm

I enjoyed the article, having more or less “been there, done that”, but couldn’t help but feel it would have been more appropriate at Momania…