The leaves haven’t changed colors yet and there really isn’t any noticeably cooler air drifting in through the open windows. But change is definitely on the way. “Change” being a downsizing in family numbers.
It happens every year — usually in the late days of August. Cars are loaded to the roof with pillows, comforters, luggage, tennis rackets and lacrosse sticks. The cars and their passengers are most likely headed to college.
The sight still triggers memories of a similar experience a while back, when our youngest one was taking off to Indiana University, where his mom and dad had met. When the day arrived, my husband and our boy got into an overloaded car to head west. They planned to eat a lot of pizza along the way and play basketball wherever they spotted a court. I figured they’d be lucky to get to Bloomington for the second semester. With the car loaded to the roof, I, sadly, had to opt out of the two-day trip.
The event produced some reminiscences and more than a few sharp tugs of the heartstrings. After all, it hadn’t been that long ago since the nurse first brought my son into my hospital room in Long Beach. He was a skinny little fella with a dusting of dark hair, tiny hands and long feet, which, over the next few years, grew at the speed of light. We couldn’t keep him in shoes when he was ready to wear them. I am not exaggerating. It seemed he needed a new pair every three months.
On the first day of school, his dad had warned him how tough kindergarten was going to be. Really tough! Toughest thing there was. (Why did the man do that?)
Then there were the years in Germany, where his father had taken a job in news that would allow us to see some of Europe, while broadening our cultural horizons. Our boy turned out to be a big curiosity among his young German neighbors. Early on, they communicated mostly through sign language, which left me wondering why kids picked up obscenities right off the bat.
When he got his first bike, his dad told him that riding it would be hard. Really hard. The most difficult thing ever! He tried to get the hang of pedaling and steering at the same time, with little success. We gave up on instructing him and turned him over to his buddies in the neighborhood for guidance.
A few years later, when he was about to head into the seventh grade, we moved back to Long Island. Shortly after the term had begun, some toughs who’d heard he was the new kid from Germany cornered him in the hall and taunted him with “Hey, Nazi!” He came home in tears, and when I suggested he ignore them, he just stared at me. At the start of his senior year, his father reminded him that his last year was really going to be hard. The hardest ever! He ignored his father, and I wanted to hug him. He measured 6-foot-3, and no one was teasing him now.
Decades earlier, I’d left for college with two pieces of luggage, a small radio and a dictionary. The trip to the campus had been a mere four-hour drive. Our son’s trip was a two-day journey, and he was taking a file cabinet, enough electronic equipment to rival Radio Shack’s inventory, posters, pennants and — oh, yes — clothing.
He was especially apprehensive about understanding the Midwestern twang. I tried to convince him that it wasn’t as if he were moving to another galaxy. On the day of his departure, our little Chevy was ready to pull out of the driveway, loaded down, back end sagging. There was an anxious look on my boy’s face. His eyes were glistening. So were mine. A lot of last-minute hugging and advice-giving followed.
“Call if you need something,” I said. “Have fun, but don’t forget to study.”
“What if I don’t like it?”
“You’ll get used to it. Give yourself some time.”
”But if it doesn’t work out, can I come home?”
“Of course . . . ”
When they leave home, it’s hard. Really hard. The hardest thing ever.
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