Expressway: Springing another bird from the nest

Patrick Calabria with his youngest child, Sean, at Patrick Calabria with his youngest child, Sean, at his graduation from St. John the Baptist High School in May. Sean is leaving to attend the Catholic University of America in Washington. Photo Credit: Calabria family

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For months, my wife has been weepy and I have had to sometimes turn away so my son wouldn't see that my eyes were glistening, too. Boxes are filled, suitcases are stuffed, the SUV soon will be loaded, and on Thursday Sean will be off to college for the next four years, at least. We are not alone in this bittersweet experience, but it doesn't matter. We still see a little boy in Catholic school plaid on his first day of kindergarten.

People say the years roll by so quickly -- and they do. Yesterday, I was carrying my son, the youngest of three, piggyback to bed. Now he is the one fixing the cable when it goes out, hanging a bird feeder and assembling the store-bought shelving. "Let me do it," he says. I feel old and proud at the same time.

We have had months and months to prepare for the moment, ever since he was accepted to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in December. It was his first choice once he visited the campus, and when the bulky acceptance package arrived just before Christmas, my wife called him at St. John the Baptist High School to tell him he'd gotten something in the mail, and that the envelope was big.

"Open it," he said.

When Mary called me at work with the news, I had to close the door to my office and allow a few tears to escape. Of course, I was delighted for him, but I also knew how the family dynamic would change: texts instead of conversation, phone calls instead of dinners, and long-distance warnings in place of curfews.

It will be just the three of us in the household now -- Mary, me and our daughter Faith, who is finishing up college, working, and coming and going as she pleases. (My oldest, Melissa, has her own home, is married and a parent herself.) We'll cook for mostly two, have the freedom to take long weekends away, and sell the car Sean would have used had he elected to stay home and attend Farmingdale State College, where I work.

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He will major in politics, and his perspective leans sharply to the right, like his mom's. Remember the Michael J. Fox character, Alex P. Keaton, on the 1980s show "Family Ties"? That's my son. He calls me a child of the '60s, the "house hippie."

So in a few days we're heading to Catholic University's elaborate orientation, with parent seminars, freshman barbeques and, no doubt, boxes of tissues.

We have to let go. We know that. And we are able to repair our emotions with plans for trips, both his and ours. The hotel reservation is made for parents weekend. A round-trip ticket has been purchased for him on Amtrak for the Thanksgiving break. But how strange it is to know we will have to spend hours driving to see our son, or to think, "We can't wait until he comes home to visit."

It's the word "visit" that throws me.

Oh, he will do fine. He's been talking about going away to college for years. He has no trepidation. We're fully confident he will easily settle into the routine of term papers, laundry, roommates and cafeteria food. He will study, do research and explore the opportunities just opening up for him.

And me, I'll be wondering what Sean is doing now -- and trying to fix the cable.

Reader Patrick Calabria lives in Seaford.

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