I dreaded this goodbye, like I did every other year my son left for school, but this year would have an added dose of melancholy.
What, if upon graduation, he chose to continue to live with friends instead of moving back home?
Was this his last summer under my roof? What if this goodbye was truly the beginning of the real Empty Nest-- one that, barring future pandemics, I would not be recovering from.
The day came to leave for senior year.
He and I began the four-hour trek from Summit to Boston. We packed snacks; I had my huge iced coffee; he made a great playlist for the ride. Along the way, some songs we listened to threw me back to his childhood, some to mine. A few times, I broke into spontaneous tears.
I soaked up every last minute of our time together. Until we had to make a pit stop.
Did I mention it was a big coffee? I was squirming in my seat as we waited until we hit the halfway point of the journey to stop for a bathroom break, an unwritten rule for these road trips.
We stretched our legs a bit and got back in the car, resumed the playlist, and began the final leg of the trip.
“Do you hear that funny noise,” I asked.
“Is that smoke,” he asked me back.
The answers were yes. Lots and lots of smoke, and a noise that turned out not to be funny at all.
We called insurance for an emergency tow, and were told that it would be 90 minutes until they could get there, and, by the way, we couldn’t ride with them in the truck to the nearest car dealer 20 minutes away because... pandemic.
They told us it was a two-week wait for a loaner car, and wished us luck finding a rental because... pandemic.
We were fighting the clock, as he had to get to campus before the COVID testing center closed, or he would be barred from the dorms, stranded with all his stuff because... pandemic.
The upshot? My son was met by David, a Lyft driver we hired to drive him the last two hours to campus. We jam packed the back of his SUV with everything we transferred from my no-longer-smoking-but-clearly-not-driveable car.
The rest of the details really don’t matter. Suffice it to say that the engine was blown, and the cost to replace it exceeded the value of the car.
It’s now a week later, and the car has been sold for parts. That’s not the good part of the story.
The good part of the story is the way I felt when I was riding the series of trains I needed to take to get back to New Jersey from Connecticut. I was actually smiling as I walked through Manhattan, appreciating the bustle of New York for the first time in many, many months.
I could have gotten really upset. I mean, we were out thousands and thousands of dollars.
This sounds so corny, but I stopped and was appreciative of how my day went. And I mean I was thankful for even the smallest bit of good fortune:
We were able to pull over safely (not such a small thing).
I was able to get really good pizza at the New Haven train station, and the car -- the entire train actually -- was practically empty, so I didn’t have to be “that gal” who bums out fellow passengers with food smells..
I relaxed listening to my book on the train.
I had -- for some unknown reason -- packed a sweatshirt on the hot summer day and was comfortable in the well-air-conditioned car.
After a day expecting to be sedentary, I logged lots of steps during my walk from Grand Central Station to Penn Station.
I was thankful that my son had brought his refrigerator back to school earlier in the summer, because we never would have found a Lyft that big.
My little boy, traveling all alone with all his stuff to college, also kept his sense of humor and positive perspective.
As he was in his Lyft, and I on my train, we texted.
He asked me if David would make his bed for him.
He reminded me that I would actually make it home more quickly than if I had driven him all the way to school.
He told me he was glad that I put a few of the granola bars and chips from the car dealership into his bag.
I told him that I was just going to pretend that I dropped both him and the car at school.
My son was happy. We had had a great summer together -- spending so much quality time playing tennis, staying up late, bingeing Netflix, discussing books, playing word games.
Now he was thrilled to be back at school with his friends.
When our kids go off to school and 'The Nest' empties, it is difficult. When you think about them leaving permanently, the thoughts are crippling.
I miss him, but he is where he belongs.
Yes, this is the way it is supposed to happen. Well, maybe all of it except the smoking engine part.