September 7, 2013

Dropping son off at college an emotional experience

By MARY WHITE, Love Stories

---- — Our oldest son was in second grade the first time that he spent a night away from home. As he left, I realized that our children had never been apart for a night. My husband and I had been away from them, but they were always together. Moreover, our two oldest boys shared a double bed. This would be the first night that they slept solo. I remarked to my husband that while losing us would be tough for them, losing each other might be worse.

Many of you know that our middle son has left for college; what you may not know is that this was our first “drop-off.” My stepdaughter was brought to college by her mother and stepfather. Our oldest son commutes from an apartment attached to our house. So, this delivering of our offspring was new.

It touched my heart to know that we needed two vehicles for the process; not because of possessions, but because of the number of people wanting to accompany him — and wanting to snoop. As our grim convoy traveled to his abode-to-be, the foreshadow of a whole lot of missing prevailed. I reminded myself that we were blessed to be losing him only to adulthood.

Upon arrival, the first thing to be set up was a gift from our oldest son: a console designed for antique Nintendo games. These games were a huge part of our kids’ childhood. Throughout the unpacking, people took turns playing the system, delighting in the bits of nostalgia. Cries of, “Do you remember this?” and theme music that was the background for a million family moments resonated a little too deeply. The full circle of it made me edgy.

Our black comedy was underscored by hyper bodies running hither and yon, screaming excitedly as they explored their brother’s home. A Greek chorus of “Oohs” and “Aahs” could be heard at each discovery. The bedlam served as a marked counterpoint for my husband’s silent determination to untie, set and perfectly position each item as he purposefully delayed our departure. At the height of his compulsion, I heard our oldest son laughingly protest, “Dad, I think he can open his own razor package!”

As sick as it felt to abandon our child to the unknown, I did not anticipate the ensuing, sorrowful hangover. For me, the hardest part has been witnessing our other children grapple with the void. Our youngest ones certainly talk more now that there are fewer voices, but that doesn’t fully make up for the looks on their faces as they find items he has left behind or as they factor his absence into our daily life.

But, our oldest son is the worst. En route to his own college, he stops to check on his brother. After each visit, he comes home with a list of things he believes his brother needs. When I encourage him to let his brother tough it out, I have to remember that I am not the one who is living a daily goodbye. I am not the one who has to drive away over and over again. Our oldest son said to me one night, “It is just so hard to leave him.” And, in a heart-wrenching Facebook status, he wrote, “I miss my brother.”

I remember the first time we visited my stepdaughter after she had moved out. I got lost in her new city (of course) and finally parked in frustration. As we walked and coordinated by phone, I suddenly heard her shrieking. Looking up, I saw her leaping and jumping far-off. She had caught sight of her siblings. She had spied home.

When our middle son started high school, he said to me, “Soon, we will be adults.” I loved how he viewed his siblings and himself as one entity. An “us” rooted in time — a time to play, a time to hurt, a time to fight and a time to carry each other. What happened to one shaped the other, for better and for worse. As one more member of their “us” ventures into the world, I know that their sounds will echo in his home, their life will echo in his heart.

Mary White is from the Malone area. She and her husband have five children, eight cats, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has had the privilege of working with children and families (her own and other people’s) for more than 20 years. For more of her columns, visit