Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
My friend Emily, taking her son Trevor from Seattle east to college in Vermont, dropped him off the first day to report for football. The next day she dutifully attended a meeting for parents, at the end of which the coach said, “And now, it’s time for parents to leave.”
Leave? She thought. Now?
Emily had been kind enough to bring my son, also an incoming freshman, from the airport to campus as well. I’d wanted to attend orientation at the end of the week instead of arriving early for fall-sports training; so that we could cross paths at all, she was staying a day extra, and I would come three days early.
My own exit time had been made quite clear as well, on the schedule for day two of orientation: “Noon: Families depart.” In this era of hyper-involved parents, colleges firmly want us to bug out.
And thus it was that Emily and I found ourselves darting around campus, trying not to be seen, as our boys served a grueling schedule of continual practices and meetings, with attendance at all meals mandatory.
The next morning we watched practice before her departure, not daring to draw close enough to make out jersey numbers. Edging toward the parking lot from which she was to say goodbye to Trevor (she’d infiltrated, via text), we stuck to the shadows in a grove of trees. She snagged 10 minutes with him as he headed to his dorm before lunch.
Seeing my son at any time over my own five-day trip East was like getting an interview with the Pope. I had made plans anyway for Labor Day weekend, hiking with other old college friends, but sent Teddy – now “Ted” – several texts suggesting I take both boys for dinner on Monday night.
In the end Trevor was too tired, but Teddy granted me an hour, while warning that he had to be at practice at 7:30 p.m. and “I cannot be one minute late.”
The next day I bought him a water bottle to replace his broken one, and suggested accompanying him to lunch. He looked dubious.
“Come on!” I argued. “I’m not that bad.”
“All right,” he said. “But if I’m the only kid with his mother, you’re outta there.”
As we filled our trays and walked into the dining hall, his football pals beckoned; he jerked a thumb in my direction. (I wasn’t the only parent, of course, with the rest of the class now pouring in.)
“Hey, kid,” I texted him that evening, after a parents’ reception on the other side of campus. “When can I say goodbye to you?”
“Maybe now,” he texted back. He had 15 minutes free. From clear on the other side of campus, I hurried uphill, huffing.
I had five minutes with him; his dorm meeting was beginning.
The next day I attended the “Letting Go” seminar pointedly offered by the college. Actually, I think it was called “Striking a Balance,” but what it really meant was “Let the [Beep] Go.”
The speaker told us to trust our kids, and that studies showed they would choose more wisely if we did. That this was the time to let them navigate their lives. We were given rules and precepts: told, for example, to leave a message saying, “Hope the test went well,” as opposed to asking, “How was your test?” We were also, in phone calls, supposed to hang up first. As if.
I’m working on it all, though I believe I broke my first rule that very afternoon, asking, as I left – at noon – how football practice had gone. Since then my husband and I have barely heard a peep, although Ted did call recently when he needed the credit-card number, and he spoke to us and his brother on his birthday.
Today I fold laundry, startled each time to have three and no longer four piles. I still reach for items on the grocery shelf, then drop my arm. Roy, my younger son, found himself hurriedly eating some specialty items I’d bought, until, he said, “I remembered Teddy isn’t around.”
He observed recently, “There’s a lot more good food around here now.”
Last night I couldn’t help a rush of questions when I found Ted at leisure and my texts actually got responses.
“R u having fun and r u glad u r there?” I asked.
“Yes yes,” he replied, and that had to be enough.
– “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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