Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dumping the Dude

On Facebook, I’ve been reading reams of posts from friends who dropped their children off at college this week. They are all such nice parents.

“Tell me how you all handle this! I miss her,” writes one.

“Have I adequately prepared him for what lies ahead?” muses another.

“She’s happy; but this is so hard for me,” says another.

“Wow. That’s the fastest move-in I’ve ever seen,” said Josh. My son’s roommate. After we heaved his belongings into their cell-like double in just under 23 minutes.

“We’re on our way to a wedding,” I explained to him, as my husband and I wrestled his dorm mattress (which had been suspiciously, stickily, adhered to a piece of plywood on the bed frame) into a sheath designed to deter bed bugs. Josh the Roommate, an affable fellow from Brooklyn, New York, had a few packages of cookies opened on his desk. He had arrived earlier and fully expected his roommate’s family from Maine to linger and visit a bit. Help unpack. Have a cookie.


“You’re good with the sheets, right?” I asked my son, a.k.a. The Dude, once the bed bug cover was on. My eyes darted over the pile of stuff on the floor. Fridge, computer, duffel filled with clothes, microwave … good to go. A few things required assembly, but I figured even if Josh didn’t have a screwdriver someone in their suite would …

“Sure,” The Dude replied easily. Outside, it was a steamy 88 degrees, but inside the dark, dank room, it was a cave-like 68. Awesome, I thought. No need to stop off at Rite Aid for a fan. His dorm last year was air-conditioned. Not so this 70s-era heap of bricks and mortar, which resembled an air raid shelter.

Ah, last year. Freshman year. Orientation and all the fanfare and nerves and excitement of Move In Day. When dozens of upperclass volunteers wearing big smiles and Cardinal red tee shirts met us at the curb and carried our boxes into his airy, spanking clean dorm room. Where we took pictures of him and his roommate standing awkwardly together, arms folded tightly across their chests. Where I hungered for other freshmen parents to chat with, console with, confide in. Where we left, reluctantly, after hours of goodbyes and programming designed to make it all easier.

What a difference a year makes.

Instead of the silent, achingly nervous teenager we dropped off last year, we were delivering a young man who was glad to be “home.” As we drove him to the office where he’d pick up his room key, he rolled down the car window, hoping to catch a glimpse of people he knew. He had already registered for all his courses, already RSVP’d to three parties for the following weekend, already lined up an on-campus job interview, already knew his practice schedule for Ultimate Frisbee and a play he was in …

He was happy and busy and self-sufficient and we were free. Free to simply stand back and be happy for him, no worries. Free to hit the road and get to the rehearsal dinner on time, because he wouldn’t miss us as he and Josh set up their stuff in the abysmal room they were so thrilled to share.

After the wedding and the long drive back to Maine, I poked my head into The Dude’s now-empty childhood bedroom. The dog was curled up on his bed, which he had made up before we had departed days earlier. I wouldn’t call it neat, exactly, but it was tidy enough, and his books were back on the shelves and his bank statements and other mail were carefully stacked on his desk. He knew that would matter to me, that his room wasn’t left in a mess, and that’s when I felt the clutch in the throat. I called the dog out, and closed the door.

We’ll see The Dude again in about six weeks. But who’s counting?

For other posts re. The Dude, see 6/13/11 and 5/3/10.

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