My oldest child, my firstborn son, went to college on Saturday. I say “went,” although my husband and I (and my two other sons, and my father-in-law-with-the-mini-fridge) dropped him off. I say “dropped him off,” although it was actually a slow separation, like a boat going down a ramp into the water and then gradually disappearing into the distance. And I say “separation,” although I have texted him about 50 times in 72 hours and soon he will be so tired of me that he may actually change his phone number.
I realize my life is not over. I realize that I have two more children who need me, if only to yell up the stairs when it’s time for dinner and drive them around in a car that smells like four years of sneakers worn without socks. And yet, I have been able to think of little else this summer than the fact that he was going to leave us, hence my absence from Adventures in Chaos—and, for that matter, many other areas of life where I am usually present. I have been fuzzy and distracted and am not willing to blame hormones or depression. Basically everything that went wrong this summer could be traced back to “He is going to college.” One friend told me that dropping a child off at college is fine once it’s all over; it’s the anticipation that’s the worst. Another friend told me that having her son at college was like having a limb amputated. A few friends sent me this story from the Washington Post. I almost can’t bear to read it.
There is something so abrupt about this transition, something that makes me think there should have been room for negotiation. I remember when he went to kindergarten, which began with an hour on the first day, then a couple of hours the second day, then a half day, and finally a full day in the second week. This kindergarten transition was quite annoying at the time, because it seemed completely stupid, and I thought he was ready for a full day from the get-go. But now I would like to formally request college half days (or, given the fact that he is seven hours away, half weeks) for at least the first semester. Because this time Mom isn’t ready. Is there someone I can call to arrange that?
There have been no thunderstorms of sobbing, which I was anticipating. But there has been a bit of drizzle every day. My sons predicted that I would burst into tears the moment I entered the dorm room, and I take some small, cold satisfaction in reporting that that did not happen. One of my colleagues at Real Simple told me that, when her mother took her to college, she began to drive away, crying, until she saw a woman in the parking lot with a baby. She went over to the woman and asked if she could hold her baby. The woman said yes. (We will put aside for a moment the wisdom of handing your child over to a crying complete stranger. I mean, what kind of mother would do that?) And then my colleague’s mother felt better, and she could drive home. Anyone out there who has a baby: My office is at the corner of 51st Street and 6th Avenue in New York City. I’ll be waiting.