I told myself I wouldn’t get all teary-eyed and sentimental when I dropped my son off at college and said farewell.
And I didn’t.
Earlier in the day we rolled up the car in front of his assigned residence hall where with other parents we quickly added to the logistical nightmare of cramming hundreds of kids with too many trunks and boxes into an elevator.
When we arrived his dorm room was empty, neat and clean. It was probably the last time it would be this way.
Still, my wife valiantly scrubbed the worn-in grime of college students past before we began to populate his dresser with neatly folded clothes. It was probably the last time they would be this way.
His roommate had not yet arrived, so he picked the right side of the room to inhabit for the school year. There were mirror images of beds and dressers and desks in the tiny room. All institutional and well-worn.
“What if your roommate wants to be on the right side?” I asked him.
“If you stand at the other end of the room and turn around it is the right side,” he pointed out.
We helped him smother his mattress in some sort of bed bug hazmat cover recommended by the knowledgeable college consultants at Bed Bath and Beyond. They also informed us that dorm mattresses are not comfortable and sold us a thick padded mattress cover. And bed lifts to create additional storage under the bed. And extra pillows so he could use the bed as a couch.
By the time we finished his bed looked like a wedding cake. It was probably the last time it would be this way.
Not surprising, he was anxious for us to leave. After all, he was in college now and the last thing any college freshman wants is to be seen with his parents.
And so we said goodbye. He hugged us as he does when no one is watching because no one was. It was probably the last time it would be this way.
This was not the melancholy moment I had anticipated. Perhaps if I had been standing on a platform while he waved from the stoop of a departing train I would have been weepier.
But in truth, I was standing in a place where I did not belong. I was the one who had to leave.
Besides, parents were encouraged to quickly drop off their children and let them get settled on their own. There were plenty of structured activities to acclimate them to college life before classes began.
I was happy for this. Newly liberated teenagers thrown together in dorms should not be responsible for making up their own activities. I know this from experience.
So feeling nothing but pride and excitement for my son, my wife and I headed off to a new-parents reception before we had to turn the car for home with one less passenger.
The president of the University spoke eloquently of the institution and the journey of life-changing knowledge our children were now deservedly embarked upon. He thanked us for entrusting the care of our most precious belonging to the University.
I thought of the cleaning crews that would show up at the dorms in spring. I doubt they felt the same way.
And then the lights dimmed and a large chorus line of extremely talented students from the performing arts school took the stage. The music swelled and they performed a moving number about the transition to college life specifically written with one purpose in mind: to make the audience cry.
They sang in uplifting voices a beautiful melody with clever lyrics about letting go, growing up, and the great job we had done as parents preparing our children for a life on their own.
Don’t worry, no . . . the stirring chorus soared . . . they are all right, you made them so . . .
If I didn’t feel bad earlier, I sure did now.
Suddenly I felt guilty that I had been so casual riding the elevator down from his new home without him.
Wait. You mean, it’s all over? I just said goodbye and punched the down button as if my car was double-parked! What kind of awful parent am I?
That’s when a stirring from the great emotional well rose like a tidal wave to my unprepared eyeballs.
To my credit, I was mostly successful in holding back tears. Thankfully we were in a dark auditorium.
But I immediately sent a desperate message from my phone.
And just as quick I received a message back: Thanks dad. I’ll miss you too.
It was enough.
In the end I guess it is all part of letting go.
But it is probably the last time it will be this way.