It was bound to happen sooner or later—Joe’s going off to college. I got a stay of execution for five months, given that his university didn’t open up campus for the first semester. You’d think I would have been ready. He was chomping at the bit to leave and kept himself busy for the past few months by buying new clothes, planning his dorm room. (My freshman year I was happy with a “Hot Pot.” Joe brought a Keurig, microwave, bar-size mini-fridge, two computer monitors, laptop and a 53- inch Roku TV.)
I kept busy by crying at inopportune moments, staring at him wistfully and making him increasingly uncomfortable. As my eldest prepared to leave the nest, I found myself cramming my 18 years of wisdom and experience into one lecture-filled week. Every car trip resulted in a blunt discussion about sex, drinking, drugs, classes and navigating the land-mine of having a roommate. I made sure to activate the passenger’s side automatic car lock, knowing that if he could, Joe would dive out of the moving car to avoid my discourses.
“Ok, Joe. Let’s have a sex talk.”
“Please, God. Mom, no. For the love of God, please stop.”
I was relentless. The nuggets of wisdom just kept flowing:
“Get to know your professors/go to them during office hours/don’t skip class/get your money’s worth—if you don’t understand something, go see your prof and ask them to explain it again/get in study groups; chances are if you are having trouble with a concept in class, one of your classmates is, too/go to church/be neat—your room is small and only half yours/just because your roommate says, “Help yourself” to any food they have, don’t go overboard, no one likes a mooch/alcohol is a poison that can kill you if you have too much/be respectful to the ladies/avoid jerks/don’t be the drunk that has to be taken care of/eat a salad now and then/go to the gym/brush your teeth/people won’t tell you if you have B.O. so take a shower every day/don’t be a doormat but always be kind/listen to all viewpoints, even those opposite of yours.”
And those were just Monday’s musings.
Moving in was an adventure. After Joe passed his COVID test, the timer began ticking on the measly two hours to move him in. I took my time unloading the car, as I wanted this to last as long as it could. My husband kept trying to give me more items to bring up the room, but one t-shirt at a time was all I could manage. We used every last minute of our allotted time as I found myself organizing and sorting everything in his room.
I told myself to be strong at the final goodbye at the curb and to hold back the tears. Of course I couldn’t. As Joe was busting with happiness, I was a slobbering mess. I gave him a huge hug and one last piece of advice: “Study hard. Have fun. Don’t be an idiot.”
He rolled his eyes, hugged me, said goodbye, and walked away. I got in the car, but kept the door open and turned and watched him. Just like his first steps so many years ago, he was walking away, as it should be.
The ride home was one big cry, as was the rest of the evening. Joe’s sisters didn’t quite get it, as they were both wrangling over who would get his room. That evening I curled up in Joe’s bed, hugging his well-loved Clifford stuffed animal, my weepy face smashed into his pillow, missing him terribly.
“Joe isn’t dead,” his sister said. “He’s in Cleveland… two hours away, tops. He will be coming home probably in a month. It’s going to be ok. Umm…Mom? You’re kind of creeping me out. Can you get up and make dinner?”