“So, has is sunk in yet…you know that I’m not there?” my eldest son asked after the first week of college classes, “Do you miss me?”
“Oh, honey, we miss you soooo much!” I answered immediately. “Leaving you at school that day was harder even than the first day I had to leave you at day care so many years ago!” I said, holding back my tears. “I knew you’d have to do everything on your own and it was so hard to say goodbye and walk off.”
A few weeks earlier, my husband and I, along with our youngest son, drove our freshman-to-be up to campus. It was a late August morning. We were greeted by cheerfully helpful upperclassman with moving bins. Within a matter of minutes, duffle bags, boxes, bedding and the antique trunk were deposited into the dorm room with ease. I can’t be sure exactly, but this was most likely when things started to go awry.
What? Was I supposed to do something other than try to control everything? Despite all obvious indications to the contrary, I ignored the signs and proceeded to ‘make my last stand.’
“Maybe you should take this bed over here. It’s clearly the better bed. You’re here first. You should get to choose,” I encouraged.
“Mom, it’s fine. Really. This one is fine.”
“OK,” I capitulated.
Dad and brother made the bed and constructed the bedside table while I organized toiletries, slid shoes into the closet, and arranged items on the desk. I measured the inside of the drawers and took note as to all the little extra items I’d bring up for him the following week at convocation. I was happy to know I’d have another chance to get the dorm room right. Make it nice for him.
That weekend I shopped. I combed the aisles for appealing, late night snacks, the three-pronged extension cord. I searched relentlessly for a plastic-free electric kettle. You just can’t be cavalier anymore when it comes to heating your hot water. You know what they say about hormone disrupting chemicals.
I guess I should have taken a clue from his lack of interest in me setting up his dorm room a week earlier. Instead, I was going for it…. double or nothing. Had I shown up with nothing, it would have been more well-received.
We stood in the parking garage looking down into the trunk of the sedan. I say with trepidation, “Now, I just want you to consider these things I brought,” as I hand him the three-pronged extension cord.
“What do I need that for?”
“The other one is the two-pronged, you can’t use it, remember?”
“Here I brought you this cushion, we can swap it out for the smaller one since that desk chair is so big.”
“I probably won’t even be sitting at my desk. I’m not going to make it a habit to study in my room.”
“Here, your brother thought you should have a bigger garbage can. Do you want this?”
“No, I like the one I have. It has a lid so I’ll keep that one.”
“And, I have this electric kettle I thought…”
“I don’t think I…”
Wait for it…. Yup. I snapped.
“You know what fine!” I said slamming the trunk door.
I opened the backseat door and threw my purse on the floor. I was picking a fight with my beloved son whom I had not seen in five days, in his college campus parking lot, right before convocation and the kickoff of his freshman year.
He had just returned from an exciting backpacking trip and I wanted to talk about the shower caddie and the laptop lock. These silly items for his room…they were the physical embodiment of my unending love, packages of care and doting.
And, he was rejecting them all. Rejecting me, I guess is what I felt.
“What are you going to do? Go home?” he asked more than a little mockingly as I opened the driver door.
“Look I just want you to think about some of these things. You’ll like the electric kettle. Just take that, ok?”
“Yeah, ok. That’s probably good to have.”
So, we walked mostly in silence back to the dorm room. I was mad. It felt sort of good to be mad. Maybe mad feels better than sad, came the recognition.
“Come on, honey. He’s just trying to get acclimated. You were probably the same way with your parents when they were dropping you off at school,” my husband tried to talk some sense into me.
Convocation was amazing. The president– a man who impressed me with his humor, tenderness, brilliance and empathy — said we had done well. We had gotten our children to this day and that now we should, yes, “let them go.” He also said it would be ok if we cried, because after all, “We earned it.” Ok, that alone made me tear up.
“I earned it,” I thought. Yes, that’s right.
Once alone with our newly matriculated freshman after the convocation, it came time to say our goodbye. My husband and I stood with our son and we shared some tender words. Words of encouragement, understanding. We shared a quietness. We shared a hug and then a second one. A third even.
Our boy said gently, “it’s ok, you can cry.”
I said, “Thank you. I don’t think I can get through this without a few tears. I’m sorry. Also, I’m sorry about before.”
The anger had melted away. I was no longer wearing it as my armor. In this moment, I was naked and empty handed with my heartbreak and my pride. No more sundry items to be offered for acceptance or rejection.
The bed was made. The dorm room would suffice as it was, even without the hanging plant. No more perseverating over the physical comforts. It was now about facing those human moments, living in and through the mental and emotional discomfort. Groping towards growth and evolution.
We said a final goodbye at a right angle on a campus side walk. With a final turn and a waive we were each out of the other’s view. Thank goodness for small blessings. My husband put his arm around me and asked, “Are you ok?”
I choked back some tears and said nothing. Having two cars, we parted in the garage each heading for home on our own. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and I looked forward to some time alone to process.
I stopped into the service station to gas up and decided to indulge myself with a couple of snacks. I gave the smiling clerk my credit card and made my way back to the car.
No sooner did my foot hit the gas pedal than a loud “thud” jolted me into panic mode. “What the heck?!” l looked in the general direction of the unexpected, rather unnerving noise, and quickly realized I had done something ridiculous. In an instant, I recalled that cult classic ‘Wristcuttters,’ where the newly undead, in their suspended moment of disbelief over their fate, and, also behind the wheel, routinely do the thing I had just done.
I turned off the engine and got out of the car, taking caution to avoid the stream of gasoline still pouring from the dangling hose head. DAMN IT! There it was. The nozzle. Still in my car gas tank.
Not knowing what else to do I went to confess to the clerk.
He did not take kindly to my plight. “I just don’t understand how people can DO that!” he said, exasperated, no longer smiling.
“Does this happen a lot?” I asked.
“ALL.THE.TIME!” he said.
“Do you want my insurance information?” I asked meekly.
“Insurance won’t cover this. Just write down your number. I can’t see your plate. Write that down, too.”
Moment of truth: I consider transposing a number and how that could make this all go away so easily.
‘Not only will I remember this day for the scene in the university garage, but now there’s this, too,’ I ponder. ‘I guess it will all be a funny story someday.’
Someday. But for now, in my humiliation and heartache, I acknowledge, “I have some work to do.”
I look out at my car, squinting into the late day sun, and write all the digits down properly.
Nina Stout is a Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist® and Functional Medicine Consultant residing in Newtown, CT with her husband and two sons. She is the author of Chocolate Alchemy and has published nutrition articles in the National Association of Nutrition Professionals newsletter, Nourishing Bytes. Nina holds a BA in English Literature, is a 2007 graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She is working toward her master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine at University of Western States.