We dropped Kid #3 at college last Wednesday for his freshman year. It was all business getting his stuff up the elevators and into his new dorm room, admiring his view. When it came time for the tearful goodbye, the long hug, the melancholy look: it never happened. It was: “yeah, okay… love you, too. I gotta go set up my room. Bye!” and he was off.
It was like releasing a fish back into the lake: the fish hits the water, there’s that brief half-second when they’re getting their bearings and then they dart off and swim away… I’m pretty sure my son had been waiting for that moment he was released since the middle of senior year high school, maybe longer. He just had to go!
Kid #3 was the kid we had to keep our eye on in stores when he was little because he’d be off in a shot, exploring, talking to salespeople, trying to find the toy aisle. This was the kid, on one of our few big family vacations (this one to Jamaica), who pulled off his floatation device while snorkeling in pretty much the open ocean to investigate a reef away from the group. He was eight. It was all I could do to follow him around.
I don’t think it’s all about being out on his own, doing what he wants when he wants. I’m fairly sure he’s looking forward to learning something, too. He’s really excited about his major.
My college experience was a tad… different. I never “took” to college. It could be because I was young for my class.
These days, I would’ve been “red-shirted,” started in school a year later, a tactic modern-day parents feel helps their child succeed. When I was a kid, they called it “held back,” which sounds more like there’s something wrong with the kid. So I was young for my class, always turning the age my classmates had already been for almost a year. I lagged behind in age and emotional maturity.
When it came time to apply to colleges, my father picked one for me. Only one. The Illinois Institute of Technology, his alma mater, a private engineering college on the south side of Chicago. I majored in my dad’s major: electrical engineering. It didn’t take long to realize I was way over my head studying calculus and thermal dynamics along side science nerds from other countries.
My first exam, with a score of –35, showed me where my college experience was headed. (They were multiple-choice tests that allowed you to put down more than one answer if you could only narrow it down to a couple. You got +4 for the right answer but –1 for a wrong one. –35 meant I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.)
After two semesters, I had twelve F’s and one D. I spent the rest of my college career playing catch-up: first at a junior college, then a 4-year school downstate, majoring in the opposite of engineering.
I didn’t make new friends there, didn’t join a fraternity. I didn’t forge bonds with young men and women who’d become my life-long soul mates as we journeyed into our collective futures. I was homesick most of the time and only made one “friend,” a girlfriend… until she dropped out, broke up with me, and moved back home (not in the order). My mother died at the start of my final year, making everything worse.
I finally got through college; I have a degree. It took me longer than planned but I graduated. I even learned a few things. I know I didn’t get anywhere near the experience I should have out of school. And I know there are no do-overs. But I can now see how this time in a child’s life is supposed to go when I watch Kid #1, Kid #2, and now Kid #3 dart off and swim away.
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