Very soon, I’ll be heading to Reno, to drop off my son at his new home on the 7th floor of a dormitory building, where he’ll live in a room that’s likely smaller than our family room with two other young men for the next ten months. The longest we’ve ever been apart is three weeks. That might seem like an eternity to some moms, and in fact, it was a long time for me. It was too long. I felt physically anxious that last week. The first week I partied. The middle week I got a few things done. But he was nine or ten years old. And I was but a wee 40-something mom with other kids underfoot and nothing but blue sky on the horizon. Now, it’s a little different.
Now I’m at the point where I really can’t let myself think about it too deeply when I’m in the company of others because that little lump rises in the back of my throat and my eyes start leaking a tiny bit, that is, until someone, let’s just say my son, comes through the door.
“How are you?”
“Uh, well, about 6 p.m. How are you?”
“You just asked me that.”
“But you didn’t answer.”
“I said fine.”
“No, you didn’t. So you’re good?”
“YES, MOM. What’s for dinner?”
“Dorm food! Pretty soon dorm food’s for dinner every single night!”
So my son has that effect on me; just when I’m feeling a little weepy, he walks in the door and reminds me why I should get over it. It’s just how the books on teenage behavior that I’ve wallpapered the inside of my brain with, say it is supposed to work. In a nutshell, the books say that teenagers are annoyed by every little thing parents do and say because that is how they are able to break the ties that bind and go out into the world. A schism must occur or no kid would ever want to leave home. But it really does work in reverse, too. You’re crying in your mashed potatoes one second and the next, your sweet, squishy, 6’6” little love button plants himself in front of the stove while you’re making dinner, blocks you from your task, asks indecipherable questions while stuffing his face full of chips, and voila! You cannot wait to drop him at college with a ham sandwich and a roadmap.
Speaking of dorm life, I had a conversation the other day with my best gal, whose firstborn is also going away to college in a few weeks. We have been best friends since we were 15, so for about 20 years. Our sons are just a few months apart. The other day, I told her about a moment I had while doing a little shopping for “dorm essentials.”
“Hey, are you sending Drew with an extra set of sheets?”
She kind of tilted her head quizzically and started to slowly shake it back and forth, communicating to me that there was a sliver of her brain that had thought about it and then decided against it, but was still interested in how I was handling the extra sheet decision in case she should change her mind.
“Me neither. I almost bought some and then I thought about how he manages his sheets now. I decided it would be a supreme waste of money. When it’s time, he’ll get them into the washer and back on his bed. Or, he’ll sleep on his mattress pad until he gets around to it. Or, it might never be time.”
So then I said this:
“What about toiletries? Like toothpaste and cold meds?” My friend just stared though me for a second. Her head tilted the other direction, just like a curious puppy who isn’t quite sure what to make of the sounds coming out of his master’s face.
“Won’t they just buy cold medicine if they need it?”
“Theoretically. But don’t we want them to have stuff right there at their fingertips? If they don’t, they’ll suffer for days and days when they could be sleeping restfully. Plus, everyone says kids all get sick the first few weeks in the dorm.”
“You’re right! Gotta get cold meds. Do you have a list of stuff you’re getting? Can you send it to me?”
“Sure.” Then with a big grin on her face, she pulled out the big guns:
“Hey, what about condoms?”
I looked her square in the eyes, wondering if she had actually ever met me. “Well, if I’m going to great lengths to keep him from feeling the crappy side effects of a head cold, I’d say…that would be a yes.”
“Right. Ok. Send me that list, will ya?”