I saw Hoda Kotb today in New York about to start her third hour of The Today Show. I waved through the glass and she waved back! It was raining, but her sunny smile lifted me, perfect after settling my son into his dorm.
The morning before was the big move-in. The roommates were nice, his things fit in the space and his succulents were digging their 14th floor window. We left him there to grab lunch with his new buddies, and we went to find our own. We didn’t hear from Benjamin all day; he was busy with orientation. After a 6 p.m. parent meeting, we walked around outside close to his dorm in case he would want to join us for dinner.
We needed a sign. Nothing.
Looking for a restaurant, we kept staring at our phones. Still nothing. I saw an ice cream truck inching along, it’s sick I-took-your-child-and-he’s-in-my-creepy-van music droning, as if from an old Victrola. We settled on pizza, telling the hostess table for three—but it might be four—and she got us a booth.
Up early the next day before anyone, I headed out for a long walk. After a few hours, I stopped for coffee, wondering how his first night went. Was the bed comfortable, roommates nice, dining hall decent? I thought of Maurice Sendak’s book, Pierre, about the family who came home to find their son missing, eaten by a lion. Where’s Pierre? Forget Pierre, where’s Benjamin? Maybe the city gobbled him up. I wanted to turn it upside down, give it a good shake and have it cough up Ben. Then we could all exclaim, “Ben was in there!” and give him a hug and happily reunite.
Getting up to leave I checked my phone once more, and voila, a shiny new text. He’s up, needs art hooks and two-sided tape, and might be free after his 10 a.m. session. The packing, road trip, move-in and now worry had worn me out, but all the walking smoothed out the rough spots. I reminded myself that while this may be his time, it’s mine, too. Time to unlace our fingers, stop hovering, and park that helicopter. He knows the way home and will return.
It’s well documented that this college drop-off is a big deal for families. Everyone keeps asking how I am, as if they’ve seen my labs and feel the sympathy I’m evidently going to need. I’m scared to cry about this; maybe I’ll look like a loser, a wuss or the tears won’t ever stop. I’ve felt them coming a few times but willed them to stop. So far, it’s working.
So, what’s there to cry about? I’m just a mother who dropped her child off at college.
He’s healthy, in a great city, so what’s the big deal? It’s the shutdown of communication that gets me and the new normal with which I now must grapple. Let him reach out to me, they say. I know he will and when I see him again, he will have changed. We will soon fly home and walk into our own new normal, changing too.
A big chunk of my heart is walking around without me, the strong part that holds back my tears, lifts me up and pumps B-positive reminders through my veins. Why am I left with the weak part lamenting this and remembering that? He will see things that I won’t, and vice versa, but wherever he is, he will always be in my heart. Still, those damn tears, they keep returning.
When you decide to have children, you sign up for your heart to break into pieces and live in other places.
We’re on the plane now heading home, and I’m a collision of proud, glad, and sad. The city below is alive and sparkling, and he’s out there, down there, somewhere, and I’m leaving my heart in New York City. The memories are messing with me, tugging me to go back to tender moments, little hands and lullabies.
After we got home, we each wandered into his room at separate times, looking around in the dark, the pillow and lamp gone, art off the walls. We feel him everywhere, while his stuff, his shoes, any evidence now lives six states away. It’s not a death, it’s life, not negative, positive. Still, I decided to torture myself and open his closet door. Gone, all of it.
What a trip it’s been but what a trip it still is. There are new memories ahead, family get-togethers, conversations, work to do and places to go. I heart New York and I heart Benjamin, but mostly, I heart myself enough to let the sadness give way to joy.
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog
You may also like: