Move in, move out, move on

/ 23 August 2010

Wow, talk about blindsided. We have been so busy preparing to move Alex to St. John’s that I somehow missed the fact that he’d really be moving out of our house. The cat just meowed to me. She does not realize the world has changed.

Moving Alex was an adventure. We love our Prius, but this was one time when it just could not handle the job. We swapped our car for a friend’s minivan, then proceeded to fill the back. This sweaty job at home became a breeze to unload on campus. We were among the first to arrive and a whole crew of about a dozen green-shirted orientation helpers whisked everything to Alex’s third-floor room in just a few minutes! This was incredibly helpful and very welcoming.

We spent a couple hours helping Alex do everything from arrange the furniture to make the bed to sort out the closet to set up his room network. But the real work of the day was letting go. Were we really going to leave Alex here, in this room, on this campus? Of course, on one level we knew that we were. We’d been planning this with him for months if not longer. We’d been dreaming it was possible for years. Yes, we were leaving him. Yet in another sense it was agonizing. While excited about the potential of his future in this place surrounded by these caring people, I suddenly realized he would not be with us daily any longer, he would not be sitting at the dinner table each evening, I would not be stretching his foot before bed. These are rituals of long standing.

My heart began to break. I could once carry Alex on one arm. I remember his first glasses (while he was still absurdly young). His smiles and laughter nourish me even as his teenage contrariness exasperate me. I have forgotten life without him. Now I was faced with it.

Our little family of four enters a new configuration, never before tested: 3+1. We three will build something new together here in Saint Paul. He will build anew in Collegeville. I trust we will find a new balance of joys and frustrations that fill our home with life and love. I believe Alex will find himself, discover his passions, and make true friends. Still, facing that change I just wanted to hang on to Alex, retreat, hide out together. As we hugged (!) and cried (!) I didn’t want to let go. Not ever.

So maybe, in my heart, I won’t. I’ll do my best to give him the space he needs and deserves (ok, I won’t drive that new router to Collegeville personally), but he is right there in my heart. I hope he blogs again (last entry was back in May!) or tweets regularly. I’d like to hear the rustle of his wings as they unfold. But the flying I’ll leave to him. Proud papa, I’ll watch from a little ways off.

Being at the tail end of the baby boom has the benefit of seeing your stage in life peppering the mass media. In this case, I am running into story after story of parents dropping their kids off at college. I used to think that the thing to say to parents sending off their kids was: “Congratulations!” Now I realize that asking “How are you doing?” would be just as much in order.

Off to camp!

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