After sending our first child off to Utah State University for his freshman year of college, I wrote this nostalgic introspective. Important to note is that we moved from Alaska to North Ogden Utah only a couple of years earlier. In order to continue the classes he was taking at Chugiak High School, Jason skipped mid-year from being a 9th grader to being a second semester sophomore at Weber High School. It was a shock to realize we would be sending him off to college a year earlier than expected.
My theme for my essays thus far in 2016 has been Curiosity: the joys, the benefits, the healing nature of this essential human experience. I didn’t realize it at the time but curiosity helped me cope with this moment of separating from my firstborn and at the same time staying connected.
A MOTHER’S UNIVERSITY BLUES – Fall 1993
I watch wistfully as you stand on the lawn outside Rich Hall in faded Levi shorts and white t-shirt, your body poised loosely with weight on your right foot, hands in pockets. You call no attention to yourself as is your way. You wait and watch, sensing how to subtly fit in with a new crowd. You glance towards a group of self-absorbed students playing guitars and handing out keys to the new kingdom you enter today.
“I hope I didn’t embarrass you by telling them your guitar is broken. It would probably be fun to listen to them jam once you finish unpacking.” I tell you what you are probably already thinking.
You nod and say, “Hey, did you hear that? That guy’s playing Pink Floyd.”
Yes, Pink Floyd. I’ve made it my business to know the music you listen to and to nurture a discriminating ear for melody, lyrics, and quality. We became Sting fans together–you shared the concert I couldn’t get to. David Arkenstone we discovered together at Graywhale music store. From Paula Abdul when you were twelve, you moved on to Sting, the Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Dream Academy (more my taste), Stone Temple Pilots, Live, Rage Against the Machine. You tolerated my enthusiasm for Crosby, Stills, and Nash but you did fall in love with Joni Mitchell. “Hey, Mom, listen to this,” was a signal for me to drop everything. I have jealously cultivated a foothold in everything you love: music, art, science. We have shared a voracious curiosity.
How can I maintain a foothold in your life here, fifty miles from home, on this insular mountain-valley campus where the tang of fall is keen and the air is electric with anticipation? A small toehold will have to do.
The music drifts by us. Your father hugs you and strolls to the car. It’s time to go but I can’t. I’m thinking about your apartment. We forgot a few things. You’ll only be an hour away, but already I feel torn. There’s a new space growing in my consciousness; a bubble of awareness that will hold a tiny, worn-out, student apartment.
“You could use some slip covers or a blanket to hide that frayed sectional in the sitting area. Maybe a plant for the kitchen. Would you like me to bring something like that?”
“Yeah, and get the guitar fixed right away, the bike too. Try to bring them up next weekend.”
“We’ll try.” I’m thinking about how you could decorate the walls and hoping you’ll remember to clean the bathroom once in awhile. “Don’t hesitate to call us if you need to . . . try to call when the rates are lowest.” It’s a miserable thing to be cheap about keeping in touch with your child.
I’m wondering: Will I lose touch with you? Will you branch out into places I can’t go? No doubt. I’m jealous and at the same time proud and glad that you can move on. I can give the extra time and space to your sisters and brothers. They still need what you must now leave.
I wish I could be a fly on the wall of your apartment. Not to spy, but to experience: your new friends, new tasks, new awareness of life and possibilities. I know you can cook for yourself, plan your time, make your own choices. You’ve proved that many times. I’ve invested so much of my life–surely I can be forgiven for living through you some of the time.
“Dad’s about to honk the horn at me. I’d better go.” I wrap my arms around you tightly. You respond with a limp squeeze. We pull away from the curb with a glimpse back to see you disappear into the stairwell to your apartment. My little bug’s eye-view continues: I see you enter your room and begin unpacking. First, you will set up your stereo and put on some music, maybe Windham Hills guitar? More likely Stone Temple pilots. You’ll arrange your books, pictures, and make up the bed, making the room look less sterile. You’ll look out the window at the boys playing their guitars, and your fingers will itch to work out another song.
In the car on the way home we listen to Sting’s “Fragile” as we ride through the mountains watching the autumn leaves change color.