Suzannah's Voice

Back to School: Time to Let Go

Art Supplies




by Suzannah Gilman 


Not that long ago, I packed my four children into my mommy-van, making sure everyone was buckled in, prepared for the shopping trip in which I would search for the supplies on their lists from elementary school: safety scissors, glue sticks, washable markers, nap mats.

Now I call my eldest son into the room as I shop online for sheets.  Like all parents at this stage, I’ve come to the stunning reality that children really do grow up faster than we expect—and I learned that dorm room beds take extra-long twin size sheets, so I’m scrambling to find a set of these hard-to-find necessities. I show him my computer screen. He shakes his head politely, “Nah… I don’t really like baby blue.” He doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his new roommate—his college roommate.

In 33 days my husband I will fly our firstborn to Arizona to drop him off at college. We will arrive before orientation so we can get him used to the town (he gets lost in Orlando, and he’s lived here his whole life) and set him up. He’ll need a bank account, and, he reminded me, a barber. He wears a flattop as a JROTC cadet, and he knows it’s important to look his best on inspection day. It’s not that he’s vain; he really couldn’t care less, this tall, skinny boy standing before me in a wrinkled tee-shirt and paint-stained shorts.

dorm room photoWhile I’m caught in a reverie, he looks from the computer screen to me and it’s a look I can’t quite decipher—does he want me to butt out and let him find his own linens, or is this one of the tasks he is still happy to let mom handle without his input?

A few months ago he took me aside and said that he didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but that he didn’t want me to do so much for him anymore because it made him feel like a baby. I hugged him and said I was glad he was brave enough to tell me that, and that I was fine. I went into my bedroom after and cried; his independence made me at once happy and mournful.

I decide on the sheets without him. I get them monogrammed, which I don’t realize is like writing his name on all of his school supplies in black permanent marker.

I wonder if I’ve taught him enough of the things he needs to know to live on his own. Have I done my job? One more trip to the grocery store together and I can tie up the loose ends of making sure he knows how to do comparison shopping and, equally as important, when it is okay to pay more for something because what you get out of it is worth it. He doesn’t want to go to grocery store with Mommy, but my husband urges him to go with me, saying, “It’s for a good reason.” Then he adds, “These are the last days that you’ll get to spend time with your mom like that.” Ten minutes and ten tissues later I regain my composure and then my son and I are out the door.

This time I let him drive.

3 replies »

  1. Isn’t it absolutely amazing how the days are so long while the years fly by? I two had two young daughters who I swear just a few years ago I sent to kindergarten and last year to high school. Last week, somehow, my oldest’s daughter’s daughter started first grade and my baby began a GA at a university where she’s also the softball coach. Also amazing because I’ve been to hundreds of her games — T-ball was last month……

    Or not. Time is precious. And a lesson in not sweating the small stuff. The universe is backwards though, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we know this stuff before it’s too late?

    p.s. Great stuff like grandkids are yet to come if that offers any consolation.


    • Thanks for your great comment, Jan and the encouragement.

      Yes, life happens too fast. I must confess that I wrote this in 2005, and this son now lives several states away and is 27. All three of my other children are also gone; my nest is empty. My second son, age 26, is married but there are no grandkids yet. I am waiting patiently. Not rushing anyone. Ah, life. Right now I’m enjoying the break.


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