My good friend’s son is driving her nuts. She is counting the hours until he leaves for college next month. Another pal is experiencing separation anxiety, dreading the moment she must kiss her daughter goodbye.
Listening to their woes, I’m reminded of the days before my eldest child, Nicky, headed off to university. He was a good kid and dutiful son, but those weeks before he left just about did us in. He was fine; I was a wreck. The more he pulled away, the more desperately I tried not to let go.
Nicky was eager to get on with it, make the break, flee the coop. I, on the other hand, was a weepy mess. But this mother had a mission: to impart and impact every grain of wisdom that might have not stuck during the previous 18 years of his life.
From the moment I opened my eyes in the morning to the time he went to bed at night, I felt compelled to discuss every imaginable dilemma he might encounter living away from home; how to deal with tough professors, awkward social situations, separating laundry, choosing paper or plastic. I had one month to say I love you, say your prayers, pack your retainer, study hard, don’t forget to actually wear your retainer.
Four weeks to purchase every conceivable product he could ever need. We hit the Target, the Walgreens, Bed, Bath (above) and Beyond.
“Mom, slow down; I’ve heard they have stores in Boston. We don’t need all this stuff,” Nicky pleaded. Shampoo, comforter, fan, extra long sheets, a ‘shower caddy’ (which took no less than fifteen minutes of cajoling before he finally gave in).
“Totally unnecessary,” he argued. I’ll just carry the soap in my hand.”
“You’ll need it,” I steamrolled. “Just wait and see.”
With each new addition to the cart, I burst into tears. Who knew that buying Spray and Wash could produce such a profound effect? And with with every new sniffle, Nicky indulged me with a hug.
“It’s okay, Mom,” he reassured me. “I’ll be fine.”
The month flew by and we arrived in Boston two days before freshman orientation.
We drove to campus to check things out even though most buildings were closed. Peering through the windows of the locked dorms and empty classrooms, I thought it looked like a prison. My son agreed. Given our quick assessment, you’d have thought we had both done time.
I suggested that we try to obtain his student ID before the mad rush of move-in day. The line was virtually non-existent, in part because Mom raced ahead of four slow-footed sophomores and elbowed a couple of unsuspecting juniors out of the way. Nicky was impressed by my quick thinking and artistic maneuvering.
Back in our hotel room that night, Nicky showed few signs of anxiety, save for his desire to iron, pack and repack all of his clothes, a chore he never ventured before or probably ever did again.
The wake up call came at 6:30 a.m. Rental car loaded, we made our way down Massachusetts Avenue headed toward Tufts University in Medford. The dorms opened at 8 a.m. and Nicky insisted on arriving early.
By the time we arrived, the campus was already teeming with incoming freshman and their weight-lifting parents. As each one passed, I silently chided myself for missing the essentials. My son didn’t have a TV, nor did he have bed risers, extra book shelves, or a mirror. What kind of mother was I? That’s it; we needed to make just one more Target run before the President’s welcome luncheon. Even though Nicky insisted that a Dustbuster and throw pillows were unnecessary, I plowed ahead citing the merits of a comfortable and dust-free environment for successful studying.
Since the roommate had not yet arrived, I once again went into take action gear (which in some states is referred to as obnoxious mother mode).
“Nicky, grab that closet, this desk and most definitely that bed.”
“Mom, this one has a better view,” he replied.
“Forget the view,” I hissed. “This bed is better situated. It’s next to the desk which can double as a bedside table, which can hold your lamp.” By that time, he knew better than to argue.
We spent the rest of the morning visiting the bookstore, the infirmary, the library. At noon, freshmen and their parents were invited to picnic on the Presidential Lawn, pretending that it was the most natural of situations to be in. Many moms, including myself, wore fake smiles while contemplating how we were going to leave our babies with these strangers. The kids, on the other hand, scoped the lawn wondering who would be their Friday night date and how long before their parents hit the road.
The high point of the day was the Matriculation ceremony, when our children officially became college freshmen. The university president generously ruled the vow we took to not embarrass our children upon our departure null and void.
After the ceremony, we started our journey toward good-bye. I tried to be brave and upbeat, because I knew that somewhere behind my big boy’s bravado was the preschooler who wanted to know that mom would still be there at the end of the day.
We hugged, I cried, we hugged some more. He held on tighter and longer and I felt my heart bursting with emotion. Then Nicky pulled away and stared straight into my eyes.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“You’re welcome, son.”
Post Script: Nicky called me one month into school, out with friends on a weekend night. Amidst the noise and general chaos, he yelled into the phone, “Mom, I’m so glad that I’m at Tufts.”
On a more serious note, the shower caddy mysteriously disappeared and the Black and Decker Dustbuster remained in its box, unused and collecting dust until graduation day.