11 May Leaving for College
When I watched my son leave for college, I felt a familiar twinge of fear, a little palpitation, a skipped beat of panic. I had always been the one to move on, the one who declared independence, demanded freedom, and moved from home to jobs to marriage to this juncture where I am no longer the one moving on. I was the one holding on really. I wanted him to call me every day, or text me, or let me know he was still breathing the same air, albeit in another state. He was with kids like him, professors I didn’t know, friends he mentioned, dropping them into conversation like sugar cubes that melted on impact as I had no way of keeping them intact. When I moved on, a lifetime ago, I never thought about the wake I left behind, and so it was with my son. He was happy, I thought, in his element, right where he should be at this time of his life, I said over and over again to calm myself. I envied all those cool moms who moved on to other pursuits the minute the tuition check was mailed out and their child became someone else’s responsibility for a semester. There is no reason to worry, my friends said, and just when I believed them, it happened.
He had been texting every few days, the phone calls were too intrusive perhaps, and so when I got a text saying, “Not feeling so great. Going to sleep this off.” I texted back furiously: What does this mean? Are you hungover, have you contracted listeria from the cafeteria salad, do you have mono? After a short text conversation, he assured me that he just had flu symptoms. Well, his hibernation began on Friday afternoon. When I didn’t hear from him by Saturday afternoon, I imagined the worst. I tried his cell, his roommate’s cell, his friend’s cell– no answer from anyone. I tried to go through my own Saturday routine, but the thought of my son, sick and alone in a dorm room with boisterous freshmen, made me so jumpy that when the timer went off on my dryer, I shuddered, nearly spilling calming chamomile tea all over myself. When I shared this predicament with my husband, he said, “Quit worrying. He will be fine. Let him work this out.” He has no trouble moving on.
By Sunday morning I was moving to panic mode again, unable to read a word of the Times, the print floating before my eyes in hieroglyphics. I couldn’t make sense of anything, especially the fact that my son had still not contacted me. What exactly was the protocol for sick students? I had to take matters into my own hands. I called the infirmary at the school and left a detailed message. Then I called the Registrar, who put me in touch with the dorm’s RA. When I explained the fact that I had not heard from my son since Friday afternoon and I needed someone to go to his room to check on him, I was assured that the RA would personally take care of this. I got a call from my son within an hour. He had gone to the hospital as his flu symptoms were in fact pneumonia symptoms, but he was on an antibiotic and was already way better now that he had gotten lots of rest. He also said, “Mom, you shouldn’t have called the school. It was really embarrassing when Sarah Brighton showed up with chicken soup and orange juice.”
“Really? Chicken soup?” I asked incredulously, thinking my tuition dollars were being spent wisely.
“Yeah, and when I thanked her for being so nice, she mentioned that you had called. And the whole time I thought she was really interested. God, no one wants their mom to call, “ he said with that exasperated tone that left me speechless with remorse.
By the time I sat down to read my paper, I was exhausted by the effort of trying to hang on too fiercely. It had been so much easier for me to move on years ago, so much more exciting and bold. Now, I was the one left behind while my son moved beyond the confines of the manicured lawns and predictable routines of our provincial life. Moving on is pretty hard, especially if you are not the one doing it.