The Days After

Well, it's been a couple of weeks.  Things are starting to settle down somewhat.  The early challenges that kids face in settling into college life have not materialized as of yet.  Erin and her roommate appear to get along.  She seems to have settled into a routine.  We've been very busy sending care packages.  I even baked a batch of cookies – and that's a serious Endeavour for me.  I'm more of a cook than a baker.  Sarah's the baker.  Baking is chemistry – which I like but I'm not really a recipe-follower…..

Sarah and I haven't been down to see her yet.  We thought about this thing and decided that we would wait a month before we went down.  There have been moments of weakness – Sarah was thinking of sneaking down there while I was out of town but I think she's stayed strong….We'll be down there in just over a week and it seems like it has been a long time.  Sarah and I are finding our "new normal" and that's by design.  Other of our friends have been down several times to see their kids.  We decided to give it a little more time but that's just us.  I don't think there's a right or wrong length of time – everyone is different.

In some ways the "off to college" experience is timeless.  It's always an acute break.  Difficult for families to handle as their children go off and come back very different people.  The Hollins website talks about how to prepare for the kids first trip home: "Your child is likely to be different" and "expect them to sleep…a lot".  I don't really remember doing any of that when I came home but my mother does: "oh Andrew slept all of the time".  Can't recall that happening.

What is very, very different from when I departed for Longwood in 1984 is technology and communications.  When I was in college (yes, you kids get off my lawn) there was only a "Hall phone" that was a pay phone.  If you called home, it was usually a "collect call" (no, you kids will have no idea what that is).  Parents were usually happy to hear from your kids but everyone wanted to call on Sunday evening when rates were low so there was sometimes a line for the phone.  Lord help the parents when they called the Hall Phone.  Someone would answer it, yell your name down the hallway, and put the phone on top of the box.  Sometimes they'd come and find you but not usually.  Hell, I'm not even sure there is an actual phone in her dorm.  Don't need it anyway.  I text with Erin everyday.  Some days Sarah will video chat with her.  If I wanted to, I could track her every move with the "Find my Friends" app.  I don't normally elect to do that unless I'm having a lot of trouble getting a response from her.  Even then, I don't bother trying to contact her before 10 on a weekend!  Also very different is television.  In 1984 cable TV was a huge deal.  MTV was huge – Madonna was prancing around half naked (some things never change) on every other video and the 24 hour news cycle was just starting to germinate.  Now most kids don't really watch TV…well, they don't care about "Cable" TV.  They care about streaming and gaming.  If they have a TV at all odds are that they're using it for gaming.

We're looking forward to visiting Erin in a week or so.  She'll actually be coming back with us for 4-5 days.  Happy Times.

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Well, move-in day has come and gone and all went relatively well.  Erin managed to pack most of her stuff by herself and we did get it all in one car.  backCheated a little bit by using the "back pack" for the car but everything fit.  We even started off pretty close to the time we wanted to set out.  Didn't want to take a chance on stopping at the Apple House for brekkie so we went to McDonalds.  Haven't been there in an age but the breakfast sandwiches aren't bad.  So, after a 3 hour drive we were at Hollins.  The sign-in line was long.  The process wasn't very clean but it's typical.  You have to approach these things with an open mind.  We got registered, signed in, ID'd, etc, etc, etc.  Then it was off to move in to the dorm.  That part actually went pretty well.  The school had volunteers and staff who had carts and whatnot that made the process painless.  We made a couple of trips ourselves with the breakables but the volunteers got all of our other stuff on a trolley and brought it up.  Setting up the dorm room really wasn't bad.  Make the bed, provide suggestions on poster location, etc.

My part in all of this was relatively minimal.  I identified my role several weeks ago.  In this activity I am not management.  I'm labor and transportation.  I didn't exactly leave the room while it was being setup but I did stay out of the way.  Let Sarah putter around adjusting things and Erin make decisions about locations.  It was fun to watch.  I think Erin and Sarah wanted everything "just so" but I don't know that it is ever that final.  Either way, I observed and assisted.

Now, most college move-in stories would be winding down right about now.  My own was "the family went to lunch together and then Mom and Dad left."  Not at Hollins.  No, they have a ceremony where the other students and staff line a wide sidewalk that leads to the "front quad" and cheer while the freshmen girls walk through the "tunnel."  That was pretty cool and important.  It was just before this ceremony that they separated parents and students.  We walked Erin over to the group of students and then had to walk by ourselves around to the front quad.  Sarah and I walked hand in hand but we both felt lonely already.  We went to the front quad, sat on a rock and watched the kids walk in.  Everyone was seated and there was about an hour's worth of speechifying.  At that point, the students were broken into smaller groups and led off for small group meetings while the parents went to their own meeting.  

Sarah and I didn't go to the meeting.  We just sat on the empty front quad and listened to the blues band that was playing.  We just sat, chatted and listened.  Sitting through another presentation didn't seem as important as our spending a few quiet moments together.  Bollocks to them and the meeting.

The "Picnic Dinner" following this activity was actually served in the dining hall.  It's an odd name for an indoor activity.  We waited in lines again but it didn't really matter.  After that, it was desert at the President's house and then on to the big moment wherein we leave our only kid behind in someone else's care.  It is, of course, far worse than that.  This isn't summer camp.  She isn't going to come home with a skinned knee that needs antiseptic.  No, We both know that the daughter we see in a month or so is going to be a different person and there is no antiseptic that you can put on that.  Not for her.  Not for us.  

I felt so parental and wise over the past month, encouraging her to go and "make the most out of it" and "learn how to think for yourself".  I mean, what kind of idiot thinks like that?  When I reflect on my own college experience I wasn't "learning how to think" or anything even close.  That might have been the net result but I was just struggling to fit in, survive and thrive.  To figure it all out.  To not fail.  Upon reflection, this whole thing seems like a horrible mistake right about now.  But it probably won't forever.  Maybe not even a couple of weeks.  I guess it all depends on who comes back from college, right?

We drove down from the Presidents house to the dorm and we all got out.  Erin got some items out of the back of the car.  I smiled and handed her a roll of paper towels.  We were close to the moment.  Sarah was crying.  Very sad for her.  Erin was stalling.  She wanted to re-wrap the paper towels.  I was telling her she was being silly.  Oddly, there was nobody else in the parking lot other than us.  I looked at Sarah.  Tears running down her cheeks, She nodded.  We both looked at Erin.  Sarah went first: "baby, we have to go."  Everyone was crying.  I grabbed everyone in a group hug and then pushed us all back.  "Erin, we have to go."  We were all sad.  But we all knew there was no other way.  This had to happen.  Erin took one final look and walked to her dorm.  We got in our car. 

 I called out to Erin for her to turn around just as she got to the door and took a final picture….and we were off on our separate ways.  Sarah and I to grow old and fade into the background and Erin on the most exciting part of her life so far.

It really does feel like my life – or at least the most important part of it – is over.  Not in a physical sense although I suppose I could get hit by a bus this afternoon….no, I mean the biggest and most important thing I have ever done is now concluded.  Sarah and I have delivered to the world a person who is capable and self-reliant.  That seems more important than anything else I've ever accomplished and there's not much else worth doing at this point.

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