It has been a busy summer for my teenage son, working full time as a lifeguard, taking the ACT test and scouting potential colleges as a rising senior. College visits have been a major to-do for us — a task that is both bitter and sweet for me, as for most parents. The bitter part, of course, is his leaving home in a year. The sweet is seeing him become more independent and the memories of my own college days.
We have toured some dorms on college visits, and I am surprised to find they seem to be basically the same. As a teenager, it was fun to have a roommate and college dormmates, even while living in a room the size of my walk-in closet. Even using a communal bathroom and shower and never having any money seemed OK. I didn’t starve, since I had a meal plan and a taste for ramen noodles.
As freshmen, we walked everywhere, since we were not allowed a car — not that I could have afforded the gas and upkeep, not to mention the responsibility. I caught rides home on holidays with other students — this was before computers, when you checked the bulletin board at the student center for people wanting to share rides and gas. It sounds like hell on earth now, but then, it was the most liberating — and scariest — experience of my life.
On one of my college visits, I got to stay in a dorm for a night with a friend. We explored the campus and the town while my family stayed at their hotel. It was an exciting visit, and I wound up picking this university to attend. When my mother took me back to the college for real and left me at my dorm, that was a time I remember to this day — and there have been a lot of days since then. That was a defining moment.
I wonder if it will be the same with my son when I drop him off that one last time. Will he be scared? Will I cry? Will he be embarrassed? (Yes, he will be embarrassed. Excuse me while I get some Kleenex.) I imagine it will be for him as it was for me — quite scary and liberating at the same time.
I can tell him the good things to look forward to — hanging with friends in the dorm, mixers, football and basketball games, frat parties, late night dorm room talks, late nights at the campus snack bar, all-nighters either studying or maybe not studying, study groups at the library, midnight campus movies and trips home to see family and friends. And, oh, there are some classes in there somewhere.
There are also the learning moments beyond studies, like managing money (overdrawing on checking accounts), dating, making friends from other parts of the country and sometimes even feeling lonely despite the crowds around you.
We have another year to prepare for his departure, and I can’t help feeling we have a lot more to teach him before he goes for good. Dropping him off that one last time is a rite of passage that many parents and teenagers will go through, and one that he will always remember. I know I still do.
Jean Simmons is a Nashville native, Franklin resident, former nurse and columnist for the Herald. She can be reached at jean_simmons @hotmail.com.