Orientation for Parents Who Need to Learn

My middle son doesn’t need me to go to his Parent Orientation this week at Occidental, after all he’s gone off to college twice now. We all know what’s going to happen—well, let’s be clear, we know how orientation goes—not necessarily how the year itself will go. That’s still up for grabs. But late last week when I was pouring over the orientation schedule for Oxy and I showed him the dessert goodbye for parents on Friday, the end of the 2 day orientation for parents, son made it clear he wasn’t interested in going.

“I hate goodbyes,” he said. “Let’s not do that.”

Panic filled me. “It’s the only time I see you on Friday,” I said.

“You can just go after moving me in on Thursday.”

“But what about Friday?”

“You don’t need to stay for both days. In fact, you don’t even need to go at all.”

My panic increased. I want to go and see him settled into the dorm. I want to help put sheets on his twin XL bed. I want to know where he’s going to put his stupid towels. I want to see where the desk is and who the room mates are. But I have to play it cool. I can’t freak out, because we both know how this is…how I am…how he is.

This son is the one with ideas that challenge me. He’s the one that talks music and books, movies and art, culture and meaning, and I love all my guys, but his brain makes sense to mine and he’s been the one to keep me sane when everything else was hard.

But keeping me sane shouldn’t be his job. He shouldn’t have to worry about me. He shouldn’t have to be my friend.

I knew when the kids were born they would leave, but I have struggled with the young adult launching, maybe because the launching isn’t smooth and seamless, but rather frightening jumps that have resulted in spectacular falls. The expression ‘crash and burn’ comes to mind, and it woke old fear in me, fear of chaos, fear of loss, fear that they wouldn’t be okay in the real world, fear that I hadn’t raised them properly, fear that the divorce had damaged them permanently. I adore my boys. I live for them. And that is the biggest problem I see now. How can you live for people that will ultimately leave you? How can you feel secure if you’re losing your heart?

But–I remind myself with sterness and weak conviction– I’m not losing my heart…or them. I’m simply learning to let them develop with more distance between us. I’m learning to let go so they can feel confident without me there. (truth, I haven’t learned to let go at all.)

So the hastily improved orientation plan now is that on Thursday I’ll drive up with middle son to help him move in to his dorm, and have a quick lunch with him if time permits, and then after one or two parent sessions, I’ll leave for dinner with Maggie, and then on Friday I have some film meetings before I take the train home at three.

It’s a good schedule, a busy schedule. I’ve deliberately planned things so I can’t be on the campus Friday, keeping myself occupied so middle son doesn’t have to worry about me, or feel guilty for not doing that dessert goodbye.

Middle son isn’t the only one that hates goodbyes. They’re just as hard for me. My close friends all know I don’t like to say goodbye. I choose to say, “See you soon.” I leave quickly when I go, often slipping out when no one is looking. So actually maybe middle son knew best, where we say goodbye after moving him in, rather than the formal dessert goodbye Friday.

If he were a different person, would I have enjoyed the dessert goodbye? Yes. If I were a different person, I wouldn’t be so intense and wanting to squeeze every moment of being together out of him. It’s a lot of pressure. A lot for a son.

Besides I’ve done this orientation before and I’m really not needed there. But I want to see his new dorm. I want to see his new world and maybe that way I’ll be content back in San Clemente, able to picture him in the world he’ll build without me.

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