“It feels like someone clipped my wings, and I’m grounded.”
My son’s feelings are justified. His first year of college was less than epic. He was abruptly booted out of his dorm because of the outbreak and forced to stay home in the teen cave with Xbox.
As a psychologist and single-father, I expected him to project frustration toward his favorite target – daddy. Surprisingly, there was no parental blame game. None. So, I asked.
My son responded, “I understand that a virus is a living organism indiscriminately seeking hosts, and it’s a natural evolutionary phenomenon.” I appreciated his understanding, and I was impressed that his vocabulary improved after 1.37 semesters.
The confinement got old quickly for both of us. My son was so bored that he cleaned his bedroom, including underneath the bed and the closet. I was agitated watching my 529 fund used for online learning squeezed in-between sessions of Call of Duty.
We want to stay safe
Although our state’s shelter at home recently ended, my son declined invitations to hang with his crew. This time, the blame finger was pointed directly at me.
Like most of his peers, my son believes he’s immune to this virus. Daddy is not. I have a Denny’s senior discount card, and my son is worried about possibly infecting me.
I’m a spandex-wearing, physically active Boomer. My son should worry more about me saying something cringey than about my physical health. To ease his concerns, I selected the most valuable implement in the parental toolbox – fibbing.
I reassured him that with the proper precautions, we would be safe. I didn’t believe that 19-year old males would wear masks, socially distance, or properly sanitize. I’m apparently psychic because they uploaded a TikTok video of their sand volleyball game while sharing a pizza.
My son’s wings are re-growing, and he’s itching to return to his flock. Fortunately, the university just gave the thumbs-up to residential living for fall term. We’re both happy.
How I felt when my son left for college last year
When my fledging flew away last fall, I was simultaneously crushed and proud. Yet, I took solace in knowing that he would revisit the nest for food, laundry service, and the parental ATM. At least, for a couple of years.
In pre-outbreak days, “grown and flown” accurately described the transition challenges facing college students and their parents. Regardless of whether the child opted for the 4, 5, or 6-year degree plan, they would eventually leave and build their own nest. The stage formally ended when parents converted the kid’s bedroom into a home office or guest room.
Given the unpredictable nature of this disease, dorm living may become too high-risk and force a replay of spring term. And with no known treatment or vaccine, the residential college experience could be different for the foreseeable future.
The development period might become known as grown, clipped, and we’ll see.
I worry that my son’s college journey will be atypical and controlled by unknowns. I’m also bummed because it feels like someone clipped my credit card and grounded me from buying an IKEA office-bedroom combo set.
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Mark Shatz is a single dad, psychologist, and author of Comedy Writing Secrets (3rd ed). His favorite pastime is watching his college-bound son outsmart “proven” parenting techniques. Dr. Shatz’s parental rants are at: https://worldshardestjob.com