Well, I did it. I took my kid to college and left him there. To get over it I’m now hanging out in the West Indies like some hippy-dippy nomad, meditating alone on a deserted beach, and drowning my sorrows in rum and various fresh fruit juices.
All seems apropos to me.
Before I got down here, however, I spent a week going through University of Miami’s orientation for students and parents. Yes, you heard that right, parents too. Which if my Facebook wall is any indication, “parents” and “college orientation” in the same breath is strictly an East Coast thing. Having gone through the University of California system twice (once as an undergrad at UC Berkeley and once as a grad student at UCLA) I can tell you that western colleges don’t give a rat’s ass if parents feel secure and comfortable about leaving their precious children in the hands of academia. In fact, as far as western colleges are concerned, the less they know of parents, the better (except when it comes time to pay tuition).
But the right half of the U.S. sees things differently. In fact, the South, in particular, takes college so seriously you’d think we parents were dropping our kids off at Hogwarts. Not only were there seminars, receptions and mixers just to put the parents minds at ease, but we also had to learn the Miami Hurricanes cheer so we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves if we happened to show up at football games (which would be embarrassing enough for our kids).
Thankfully parent orientation also clued us into the specific collegiate teams we’re supposed to diss. Which is particularly helpful to me given I follow sports just about as much as I track the Royal Family’s dalliances or Oprah’s weight fluctuations.
However, there was one parent orientation seminar in particular that caught me eye. It was called Letting Go: Adjusting to Life as the Parent of a College Student and was taught by campus-staffed family counselors. This was by far the university’s most popular orientation class for parents, as it was offered 12 times in one day.
I decided to check it out, not because I thought I needed counseling about dropping my kid off at college (I already knew I’d be a total emotional goon when the time came to say our final good-bye), but rather to see if anyone else was just as weird as I was about sending their kids off to college. Was it just me or did other parents have that same strange dichotomy tugging at their hearts? On the one hand I’m picking out color chips to redecorate my college-bound kid’s room. On the other I’m having trouble coping with the fact that I won’t hear saxophone noise coming from that same room every waking moment…even though his constant practicing sometimes drove me nuts.
Turns Out I’m the Sane One
I won’t go into all the parents’ stories, but suffice it to say there were a lot of conflicted feelings shared and tears shed in that Letting Go class, mostly by fathers of daughters who were remembering how they treated young women when they were in college. One dad lamented about how uncomfortable he was with his 18-year-old daughter’s new skimpy college wardrobe. He openly admitted that he thinks chastity belts should make a comeback. “And you let your daughter come to Miami?” was the counselor’s first take on the situation.
In another discussion when the counselor informed the parents that unlimited condoms are handed out freely all over the campus, a dad plopped his head down on the desk he was sitting at with such a clunk I was sure he gave himself a concussion. “Let me guess, sir,” said the counselor. “You have a daughter.” The dad nodded without raising his head while his wife patted his back.
“Don’t mind him,” his wife reassured everyone. “He’s just remembering the frat party at which we met…exactly 18 years and nine months ago.”
As for me, I’ve already made friends with the idea that my son will do all the things in college that kids do when they don’t live at home anymore. I actually want him to experiment and have fun while he’s away at school because college is the time to do that crazy stuff. I just hope he’s smart about it. However, I really don’t want to know the details, because let’s face it I’ll be back in Park City deluding myself into thinking he spends all his free time studying in the library. Stupid, I know. But it works for me.
My Last Night at College Before MY Graduation
After dinner my last night in Miami, my newly minted college son and I sat in my rental car in the parking lot of his dorm. Trying to impart a thoughtful good-bye, I instead stumbled over my words like an incoherent twit. I had a nice little speech planned, but of course, none of it came out. Derrick listened politely to the maternal nonsense I babbled through choked back tears until I finally said, “All right, enough of this. You need to go.”
We got out of the car, he hugged me tightly and said, “I love you, Mom.” And in that second I remembered everything from preschool field trips to reading every night in bed to skiing a bump run the first time together to teaching him how to drive a stick to helping him pick up the pieces of a broken heart. “I love you, too,” was all I could muster up.
He started toward his new home, but when I didn’t follow he turned and said, “Aren’t you going to walk with me to my dorm?”
“No,” I replied, “I think everything’s been said and done. You go on up to your room. I’m heading out.”
He nodded, turned and walked across the dark parking lot alone, illuminated only by a streetlight. As he neared the gray area between light and dark where the light ended, he slowed his pace, as if he might turn around one last time. “Oh geez, Derrick. Don’t look back,” I quietly mumbled to myself, giving him one last piece of unsolicited motherly advice. “Just keep going forward.”
And fortunately for both of us that’s exactly what he did. And then just like that, my little boy abruptly disappeared into the night. ____________________________________________________________________________________
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