I recently took a tour of a university campus. Not because I’m planning to go back to school but because my son, somehow, is heading off on his post-secondary adventure in the fall.
How is it possible the scrawny baby who arrived three-and-a-half weeks too early and refused to nurse is about to embark on this journey?
Wasn’t it just yesterday when I headed off down highway 401 from Peterborough to Kingston in the backseat of my parents’ sedan, driving beneath overpasses that had banners hung from them, which said things like, “No More Milk and Cookies” and “Say Goodbye to Mom and Dad.” I was terrified.
Wasn’t it just last week when I went out to a campus pub with friends from my university residence and met a skinny blond guy in a striped rugby shirt with a rip in the front? I was in love.
Wasn’t it just last month when that blond guy slipped a ring on my finger and we exited a church with bells chiming into a muggy August afternoon? I was married.
Wasn’t it just last year when someone handed me a squirming bundle of boy and we took him home and I cried, overwhelmed with the impossible responsibility? I was a mother.
My son is taller than I am and a better young man than I could have hoped for when I was pregnant and first wrote out how I felt about this child of mine. The teen years have not been without their share of difficulty. At first, I expected to escape the traumas of raising teens. I thought my sweet children would somehow not be typical, they would circumvent the cliché and be studious, forthright and lasting companions, who would not use “like” every other word, would not lie or deceive, and would not hate me. I have been disabused of these notions over the past eight years as we all struggled to navigate hormones, relationships, peer pressure, and exam and deadline angst. To find ourselves coming out the other end, blinking into the brightness of life after high school is a palpable relief. One down, one to go.
The campus we toured last weekend was not the campus of my youth but so much about it feels the same. The buildings have their lecture halls, study nooks and common areas where students gather to discuss their professors and assignments, or their weekend plans. The campus bookstore is full of textbooks and clothing proudly emblazoned with the university logo.
The spring open house was held during a snowstorm and as we trailed behind our guide we were soon soaked with melting flakes. I recalled my own long ago walk from one class to the next, trying to be on time while slipping on the snow-covered sidewalks, books gripped against my chest, shaking out my wet hair as I found a seat in the back of the classroom. The scents of paper, pencils and melting snow. The sounds of backpack zippers, books opening to page 216, coughs and sniffs as we settled into our seats.
However, I find it even easier to remember the friends and the fun. The perfect marriage of freedom and lack of responsibility. You decided your own fate for the first time in your life. You went to class or didn’t. Passed the assignment or failed it, or something in between. People came and went, in and out of your dorm room. Some you’d met, and some you hadn’t. You met more people in your first week of classes than attended your whole high school but you weren’t as overwhelmed as you thought you’d be.
I’m overjoyed that my son has decided to go to university. The hard work will be worth every formative experience. When I send him off to school in the fall, I won’t hold his hand until he joins the Kindergarten lineup. I won’t let go to watch him disappear into the school and know that I’ll be back in the same spot in a few hours to collect him and hear about his day over a grilled cheese sandwich and glass of milk.
I don’t know exactly how it will be, leaving him for the first time, but I know it’ll be right. He’s ready, even if I am not. And all I can hope is that when I next see him, he will tell me about his first semester, his ups and downs, friends and classes, over another grilled cheese sandwich and glass of milk.
Fiddler on the Roof, Sunrise, Sunset
Is this the little girl I carried,
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older,
When did they?
When did she get to be a beauty,
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?
Sunrise, sunset (x2),
Swiftly flow the days.
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,
Blossoming even as we gaze.
Sunrise, sunset (x2),
Swiftly fly the years,
One season following another,
Laiden with happiness and tears.