Expressway: My long goodbye to a college-bound son

Karin Greenberg of Dix Hills with her family, Karin Greenberg of Dix Hills with her family, from left: Sandy, 15; Karin; Drew, 18; Annabelle, 12; and husband Eric. Drew leaves for college on Aug. 21. Photo Credit: Jillian Schatzberg

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I hate endings. Whether it's the last day of a vacation, the final episode of a TV show, or the changed format of a newspaper, saying goodbye brings me down.

This week is one of those times. My oldest son, Drew, is leaving for college on Thursday.

I had high hopes for the days before his departure: We'd go to long, relaxed dinners; lounge at Robert Moses; watch movies together; spend a day in SoHo.

There have been a couple of dinners and one day at the beach. For the most part, though, my son has been sleeping past noon, going to the city or the beach with his friends, and seeing movies well past my bedtime. When he is home, he's in bed with his laptop watching episodes of "Family Guy."

As I was walking early one recent morning, I desperately tried to think of fun things to plan for his final days home.

The day of Lehigh University's orientation, Aug. 21, hung in the air like a challenge. We could hike in Cold Spring Harbor, go to Quogue for the day, take a ferry to Fire Island.

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Then it hit me: There was no way to turn this week into a dramatic send-off. There will be no defining goodbye because the goodbye has already happened. The goodbye has been his life.

I've been saying goodbye to my son for 18 years. From the time my pregnancy was over and he came, reluctantly, into this world, I've been adjusting to a constantly changing mother-son relationship. My expectations have shifted almost daily from the time he was tiny.

Back then, he was my baby doll -- the little being who had squirmed inside of me for nine months was suddenly a live, smiling, infant who needed me desperately. I sustained him with milk, stimulated his mind by reading him books, and loved him in the most unconditional way possible.

Then, as he began talking and grew into a toddler, an inevitable wave was set into motion. It took us through the ebb and flow of his childhood. His brother was born, then his sister.

There were holidays, family trips, disappointments and celebrations. With each phase of his life, his character strengthened and his need for me receded a little bit further. He went from a cautious, intelligent, freckly boy with a shy smile to a tall, confident, freckly teenager with a clever sense of humor.

I try hard not to dwell on the fact that this is the last week my son will be living under our roof. He has left home many times before but this time, he is launching into adult life.

Our family of five will never again function as the same insular unit. Yes, he will certainly sleep in his childhood room again and join us for family vacations. But he will be a changed person, one who has experienced more than a few weeks at a time off Long Island. Although he's never said so, I'd like to believe that in addition to him choosing Lehigh for its strong academic programs, beautiful campus and manageable size, he considered its short, 2½-hour drive from our home.

I remember the day I first separated from my son at his Great Neck preschool: His little eyes locked on mine through the glass of the closing classroom door. I can't imagine the last look I will share with him as I leave him at his new home on a hilly campus in Pennsylvania. I can only hope that he knows that what will be behind that look is the same thing that was there all those years ago: an endless supply of love.

Reader Karin Greenberg lives in Dix Hills.

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