Sunday, August 28, 2016

Dropping Him Off at College; or What New Torture Hath Hell Wrought For Me Now

I didn't even ask Teenager #1 if I could take a picture of him in his new dorm room, or in front of a significant University signpost to herald his new era. To use one of his most recent delightful turn of phrases-he doesn't fuck with that. Dropping my son off at college was alternately fine and horrid. He was excited and terrified, curious and wary, grateful and accusatory. Just like every other college freshman; united in their fear of the unknown, unique in their particular brand and practice of "what the fuck happens now."

So I spent a good deal of the day engaging my mother child translator, furiously interpreting such gems as:

"Why would you put that there?"
"Why do I have all these papers?"
"You didn't throw away any of my papers did you?"
"Why didn't you pack any hats?"
"I don't know where my schedule is."
"I can do that myself."
"Can you help me please, I don't know why you're just standing there."

I don't do yoga, but you'd never guess that from my constant employment of deep breathing that day. And with each new gem of an overreaction Teenage #1 was making it easier and easier for me to leave.

As I returned from making a last run to Walmart for a shower caddy before I hit the road, I got the text "I'm starving, can we get some food." At that point I had recorded over 15,000 steps, I had sweat through every article of clothing twice, I was exhausted beyond reason and I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do less than sit at a table with he who must not be named as he ate a tuna club and burped without remorse. So I yoga-breathed again, and read what the text really said. "Don't go."

As the moment for me to leave drew nearer, his panic became clearer. "I don't know what I'm even doing here. What am I supposed to do when you leave? I don't know how to get anywhere?"(insert expletives of your choosing for a more realistic reenactment). It didn't matter what I said. No words existed to comfort him, none that he could hear. There was no hug. No chance to share last nuggets of advice or reassurances of love and support. He simply turned to his dorm and said "Okay, Bye, I'm gonna go sit alone in my room now."

I love many things about Teenager #1. One of the things I admire most is his inability to be inauthentic. There was no picture perfect moment of proud mother and potential filled offspring embracing on the brink of the next step, because he couldn't put that mask on. In that moment he was scared and he was pissed; and in that final turning away, and in the angry calls and texts of the following 30 minutes, he was not saying "fuck you for doing this to me," he was asking "is everything going to be alright?"

And my answer is this: I don't know.

Ultimately, yes, you have always had and will always have a baseline of alright because you have us and others who get you and love you. But you are going to travel every axis of that baseline from brilliant aha's to slimy-sucky-couldn't-possibly-get-any-worse-and-then-it-does days. Your resolve will be tested again and again. I am not worried about you getting back up when you are down. I've seen you do that with more courage than I could muster at your age. I'm worried you won't let yourself enjoy the ups for fear of the downs. 

You want to know if everything will be alright, and the best answer I can give you is: not always; but it will be a lot alright-er if you can enjoy the achievement of the ups. You are capable of alright, and each time you figure out how to use the washing machine, and find the registrar's office and remember the hours the dining hall is open, you will begin to realize that you are worth alright.

There was no way I could say that in that moment of goodbye because he wouldn't be able to hear it. There's no way I could say it now, because he is 18 and already knows everything. But I knew he was beginning to live it when I woke up the next morning to this text:

"My xbox controller is getting greasy."


"I'm ok...for now."


  1. Just read this out loud to my daughter who is starting her first day of 8th grade and has been grumpy and sullen all morning. We laughed and she left for school with a smile on her face. Thanks Mary xo

  2. Perfection!

    Translation: you're wonderful!