Archived Story

Proud parents take son to college

Published 9:20am Friday, August 31, 2012

Column: Notes from Home

This weekend my son starts his life as a college student. Friday is the last night he’ll sleep — as a permanent resident — in a house where his parents live (and where our rules apply), as if any children are permanent residents in any of their parents’ houses.

Oh, he’ll be back in that room a lot over the next few years, at semester breaks, during the summer, and possibly after graduating (though that would surprise me, given his ambition and abilities). However, once he starts college, I don’t expect him to return to live in this house with me and his mother for more than a few days or weeks at a time.

So Saturday morning, look for the three of us in a car loaded with suitcases and boxes and assorted plastic bins headed north on I-35. We’ll be there, but perhaps hard to notice, among all the other cars, vans and pickups also loaded with college students and their belongings headed to college.

It’s just parents and son on this trip; his older sister made the transition to college five years ago, and his younger sister isn’t interested in spending a long day away from home checking her brother into his dorm. I rather suspect she’ll be celebrating having the house — and her parents — to herself for the first time in her life.

The experience five years ago with our oldest daughter should have prepared us better for this transition in our lives. At least that’s what I expected, even though it wasn’t exactly the same sort of experience. More of her “stuff” got mailed to campus, and only mom went to help her move in to her dorm, because it involved a four hour flight to the West Coast.

Also, I have had a lot of time to think about this day, since all of our children have grown up — as so many American children have for more than one generation — with the expectation that they have the opportunity to do great things, and that continuing to be “students” after graduating from high school is the best route to doing that.

But despite our previous experience and the amount of time we have had to prepare ourselves, the day is finally here and guess what? It’s still a surprise. It’s still shocking. I’m still not ready. When did he first sprout a beard? When did he grow to be so tall? Sunrise, sunset … sunrise, sunset … swiftly, fly the years …

Most importantly, when did he start knowing more about the world than I do? That’s the biggest shocker of them all. How did he get to be so wicked smart?

Life as a parent is one long series of transitions. First there is becoming a parent, followed by the first illness — a bad cold or fever — that sends us nervously and unnecessarily to the emergency room. Then teething sets in and toilet training and the first baby sitter. Daycare drop-offs become part of the schedule, and the first day at school rolls around. Adolescence brings driving and dating and disdain.

Finally, they move out into the world.

Which is not to say that there aren’t some good things about this transition. Our youngest daughter’s friends will stay for supper more often, now that the boy isn’t at the table telling us the latest information about brain research or zombie movies. And I finally get the use of a desk where I can write or grade papers (away from the rest of the household’s noise). It is only the top of the desk, and I’m not allowed to move anything around in the rest of the room or play with his Lego kits, but it’s something to look forward to.

All three of our kids know that there will always be room for them with us if they need that safety net. Frankly, though, and reluctantly, I have to admit they probably won’t need that promise. We’ve done a better job than I ever imagined possible in getting them ready for life without us.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.