As My Only Child Goes off to College—Again

Goodbye, August. Hello September.

Goodbye, peaceful sigh of having your only child in close proximity.

Hello, pit-in-the-stomach that distance brings.

This year, now that my only child is a sophomore, he doesn’t even need me to bring him to school. He’s got his own car, and he even made a few extra trips down to Massachusetts so he could fit everything in his Civic on move-in day (and didn't need Mom around).

He’s forging his own way. He’s 19.

It’s an anticlimactic start to the school year. Compared to last year’s dramatic drop-off of a freshman into his dorm—that driving out and leaving him behind—this year is tough. At least last year, I had a prime opportunity to cry.

Regardless, it was downright fun to have him home for the summer.

With a college year under his belt, he was more interested in engaging in intellectual discussions with his family. He had new political stances I had never even heard of. He taught me things going on in the news and on college campuses that I was not tracking. He was more responsible, more on top of things. And, he worked and made some money.

It can just be darn fun to see your child growing into an adult.

But I did tell friends having him home for four months was also like opening an old wound. That worrying: How is he doing? Is he sleeping too late? Is he coming home early enough? Is he hanging out with the right people? Is he being productive enough? Is he getting enough work experience?

Now that we are transitioning back to school and I won’t be seeing him regularly, I reminded him before he left: “Now, remember, if I text you at 1:00 pm in the afternoon and I don’t hear from you until the next morning, that stresses me out.”

He said, “Okay, but you can't text me every night, Mom.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Hey, I didn’t text you every night when you were at school last year!”

And he responded, “Yeah, but you did this summer.”

Really? Funny, I hadn’t even noticed.

All summer long, when he was at a friend’s house, or at his dad’s for the night, or if he was at home but I wasn’t, I texted him just to check in. Most nights. It’s hard to break that pattern we had when he was in high school.

So as he drove himself back to school yesterday, I thought about when D. was little and I’d put him into bed. I would sing a trio of three songs to help him fall asleep. An odd combination, but the only songs I knew by heart: “Peace,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Taps.” I sang all three, including every verse of “Amazing Grace,” and then I finished up with a chant of “X Marks the Spot” on his back—X marks the spot with a circle and a dot and a big question mark…

I asked him at one point this summer if he remembered the songs, or me singing to him every night. He looked completely surprised. No, I don’t remember that.”

What? Seriously?

Somehow, even though he doesn’t remember all those nights when he was trying not to fall asleep and I was trying to get him to, I know they are part of his life. They must now be part of his DNA. Somehow, those Xs I traced are imprinted, and they went off with him to college for year two.