Back-to-School

Freshman Parents and Letting Go

empty dorm room

by Suzannah Gilman 

It seems like it wasn’t long ago when I’d pack 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 first roommate—his college roommate.  My excuse: I’m new at this.  I’m learning, too.

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.

While 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.

This was previously published under the title “Back to School: Time to Let Go.”  

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