the college drop-off

ImagesThis past weekend we drove up to Wesleyan to meet the girls and help them set up their rooms for the college year ahead.  There have been a slew of articles written on the topic of sending your kid to college.  For some it is incredibly difficult to let go, to let their children spread their wings and fly, to move into a different relationship with them than the one where they lived underneath their roof.  It is a transition for everyone.  For this generation, I believe it is harder on the parents.  Or maybe it was always that way. 

Jessica sat watching us sweat as we moved from one activity to another.  Cars, parents, luggage and boxes were everywhere.  She said it reminded her of the brilliant opening of White Noise by Don DeLillo told by Jack Gladney, the narrator of the book.

   The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed
through the west campus. In single file they eased around the orange
I-beam sculpture and moved toward the dormitories. The roofs of the
station wagons were loaded down with carefully secured suitcases full of
light and heavy clothing; with boxes of blankets, boots and shoes,
stationery and books, sheets, pillows, quilts; with rolled-up rugs and
sleeping bags; with bicycles, skis, rucksacks, English and Western
saddles, inflated rafts. As cars slowed to a crawl and stopped, students
sprang out and raced to the rear doors to begin removing the objects
inside; the stereo sets, radios, personal computers; small refrigerators
and table ranges; the cartons of phonograph records and cassettes; the
hairdryers and styling irons; the tennis rackets, soccer balls, hockey
and lacrosse sticks, bows and arrows; the controlled substances, the
birth control pills and devices; the junk food still in shopping bags —
onion-and-garlic chips, nacho things, peanut creme patties, Waffelos
and Kabooms, fruit chews and toffee popcorn; the Dum-Dum pops, the
Mystic mints.

    I've witnessed this spectacle every September for twenty-one years.
It is a brilliant event, invariably. The students greet each other with
comic cries and gestures of sodden collapse. Their summer has been
bloated with criminal pleasures, as always. The parents stand sun-dazed
near their automobiles, seeing images of themselves in every direction.
The conscientious suntans. The well-made faces and wry looks. They feel a
sense of renewal, of communal recognition. The women crisp and alert,
in diet trim, knowing people's names. Their husbands content to measure
out the time, distant but ungrudging, accomplished in parenthood,
something about them suggesting massive insurance coverage. This
assembly of station wagons, as much as anything they might do in the
course of the year, more than formal liturgies or laws, tells the
parents they are a collection of the like-minded and the spiritually
akin, a people, a nation.

Fred and I met in college and lived in rooms similar to the ones that Jessica and Emily will occupy this year.  It certainly brings me back.  Yet this year, maybe because the girls are older and have been independent for awhile, I am just happy to be part of their lives and watch them find themselves as they explore the world, create their own friendships and become adults. 

I spent a fair amount of time doing my own thing this summer and the kids did their own thing too.  We checked in often and even took a vacation together yet we each enjoyed our own space.  When we got together for an extended period of time it was great perhaps because we are all respectful of each others needs and space.  I am happy to help if asked but I know that they have to figure out their own lives by making their own decisions. 

So this year, after hours of helping them each figure out their room situation from moving stuff around to helping unpack to meeting some of their friends and their parents, it was nice to get in our own car and drive back to NYC.  I am excited for their adventures this year.  We are all moving forward and somehow it just feels right.