College daze

I’m a little blue this week. I just took my oldest daughter off to college. 

In some ways, my wife and I are jaded veterans of such handoffs. We know enough to let their freshman roommates bring all the big items — televisions, refrigerators, microwaves. My motto is: Let the one percent bring all the expensive stuff. We’ll chip in the clock radio. 

Of course, moving daughters rather than sons is different. The sheer number of pillows that my daughter and her roommate collectively brought probably outnumbered the entire pillow count for one of the guys’ floors.

And the whole idea of color coordinating room décor is a concept that would never have occurred to my sons. 

The rituals of the college freshman move-in and orientation seem pretty standard these days. Students are told all about the various support services of the university. They attend countless ice breakers. Classes must be a relief after a weeklong gauntlet of hospitality and advice. 

Parents are likewise assured that the tens of thousands of dollars they have coughed up do not just pay for the sushi bar and the Boar’s Head meats in the dining hall, but also for an array of services to make sure their children are shepherded through the challenges ahead.  

In my day, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, you showed up for registration and that was that. The only people who got the special treatment were jocks on scholarship. 

I think it is really much better now. Students may still fall through the cracks, but universities seem to work harder at preventing that from happening. It is ironic that the schools no longer function as substitutes for the parents (in loco parentis) when it comes to sex or booze, but the institution itself is kind of a helicopter parent when it comes to other aspects of the student’s life. 

All of which is a comfort of sorts, but I still feel blue. Part of it is simply that a milestone has been reached. There’s no going back. One more bedroom is now going to be empty most of the time. One less place setting at the evening table. One fewer sleepy head to rouse each morning with increasingly urgent threats and pleas. 

As parents, we work so hard and worry so much about preparing our kids for life, and then suddenly they’re launched. We can no longer be there to make sure they get their homework done or go to Mass or eat balanced meals.  

We won’t be able to ask who they are going out with tonight and what time they plan to be home. 

My oldest son is 24 and just returned from a year in China. For dinner one night we gave him a glass of milk and a glass of wine. It seemed to capture the conflicted feelings we have as our children grow up. Very proud, but also a bit melancholy as they leave us back at the nest. 

What a cliché this is, but it seems only days ago when I saw my daughter as a toddler having an early morning tea party with her stuffed animals. I cheered for her all through volleyball and cross country and track, and I beamed with pride from first Communion to high school graduation. Now I’m no longer on the sideline, and I am most likely to find out about her accomplishments and adventures if I visit her Facebook page. 

The real reason I’m feeling blue is that I’m feeling sorry for myself. I really enjoy my kids, and when they go away, I miss their presence.  

Of course they will still come home, and I’ll hug them fiercely and savor the too short moments of togetherness, but it will be different now. I might not want it to be any other way, but it has once again come too quickly. 

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.