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My eldest child moved out this week to go to college. Last week we worked through a packing list provided by the school, and when we got to “stamps and envelopes,” my son refused them. When I said, “But you can write to me,” he looked at me and laughed: “I promise you I will never write you a letter. We can text!”
It’s been four days. I want to talk to him. I want to text him. I want to write to him. I want to see him.
Facebook is full of photos of awkward kids sitting in dorm rooms, posing in front of college landmarks, hugging younger siblings. Parents seasoned in college sendoffs advise me to not be overbearing, to let him settle in, to not bother him all the time. I read the same from experts who refer to “autonomy” and the dangers of helicopter parenting.
So, I wait to hear from him. I look at the orientation schedule and think about what he might be doing now. I got messages from his grandmother and a neighbor who appear to be exempt from that rule about giving him space. They’ve texted him and tell me he seems to be doing well. I need to act cool and let him settle. I don’t ask him everything I want to ask. I have asked him only if he has played soccer and if he’s made any new friends. But what I really want to know is about the bed, the room, the showers, the food, the people, the classrooms, the classes.
Is the bed comfortable? Is it hot at night? Do your roommates snore? Are you waking up to an alarm? Do you have to wait in a line for the shower? Does your soap carrier drip in your cupboard? Where are you hanging your towel? Did you move any furniture around? Have you met Aunt Sandy’s other nephew? Have you found any other Southampton supporters? Have you been eating? Do you miss dad’s cooking? What do you have in your mini fridge? Was the orientation comedy show funny? What happened in the sexual violence prevention program? Did you go to gaming night? Was the DJ any good? Are you going to join a fraternity? How were your classes today? Do you remember any of your calculus? Are the professors nice? Are there desks with attached chairs? What books will you read in history? Do other kids take notes on laptops or paper? Do you have all the pens you need? Were the classrooms easy to find? Do college classes feel different than high school classes? Was badminton class as awesome as you hoped? Who do you miss more: me, your dad, your sister, your beta fish, or your turtle?
While I want to figure out how to learn those things in a new way, I know that what I really need to figure out is how to be happy without knowing those things.
I know I won’t ever find the answers to most of those questions. Actually, most I’ll never ask. My son is spare with his words, but I would know much of this if he were at home. There are things you pick up and know just by daily proximity — almost by accident. While I want to figure out how to learn those things in a new way, I know that what I really need to figure out is how to be happy without knowing those things. I guess this is what people mean when they say our relationship will change.
On the day he moved into his dorm, my son and I both downloaded Words with Friends. Now, when my phone bings, my first hope is that it’s a game notification. Usually it’s not. For me, a game notification indicates that he is still alive and he’s still got an interest in Silly Mom-Son Fun.
When we said goodbye in his dorm room, I hugged him, longer and tighter than usual, while the burn of tears rushed to my eyes and I concentrated on preventing a dam burst. Moments earlier I had taken my turn in Words with Friends. I played the word “bye.” Better options would have gotten me more points, but this seemed appropriately humorous.
I heard a notification bing when we were pulling out of the parking lot, and I looked at his word: “end.” Then came my tears. Blurry-eyed, I messaged him within the game: “That word you played was a little depressing.” He replied immediately: “haha you played bye!” We moved on. Quiz. Fry. Mere. Safety. Goth. Prose. The most recent message from him, after he played “jest”: “oof, killed it with that last word.”
Letters? I knew those were not going to happen. Maybe we’ll work up to a phone call. If messaging within a game app is all I get of my son for now, I guess I can live with that. At least I know he still remembers me enough to indulge me in an ongoing game of Words with Friends.
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