Life Sentences: New Chapter To Begin

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A two-day college orientation brings home the fact that another fledgling is about to leave the nest.

A two-day college orientation brings home the fact that another fledgling is about to leave the nest.

It is difficult to sort out my emotions as summer drifts away. It’s our last month before dropping our daughter off at her college dorm.

Last week, we drove her to the two-day orientation that is designed to familiarize incoming students to the ways of university life. When we arrived, she wanted us to disappear, the better to find her way around on her own.

Although parents were not invited to participate in the Freshman Orientation, they were expected to participate in the parent orientation, a two-day immersion in the history and traditions (and financing) of campus life.

It was like many conventions, offering breakout sessions on organizing time, how much to study, resources for help if you start to fall behind. A food break, a cattle drive to the next event, and more information to absorb.

We even split up once or twice, the better to gain any knowledge that our daughter will forget to tell us.  

I was hurt when we saved her a seat at our table for the Family Dinner, and she came in and sat with someone else. Humph, I thought, what are we, the cootie table, where she wouldn’t sit if we paid her?

It turns out that she met her new roommate in a small group tour of the campus, and she wanted to talk to her. I was happy about that, because she will know someone as soon as she gets there.

I never wanted her to experience the loneliness I felt my first year in Indiana, of all places, living off-campus and not knowing a soul. 

When I went to work for the campus newspaper, I finally met some friends that I’m still in touch with today.

Journalism majors at an engineering school were rare birds indeed, and we hung together like Catholics in Utah.

With so many engineers, though, we had the most up-to-date computers and newspaper printing equipment, so that when I graduated and got a job, the newsroom had very similar systems, and I needed no training.

But back to the future. The drive to Therese’s campus near Washington, D.C., can take a little more than three hours on a lucky day. A Friday afternoon in high summer, with two major cities emptying onto the interstate for the weekend, one can experience a five-hour-crawl in bumper-to-bumper traffic from Washington to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Speed limit: 20 m.p.h. In the rain.

Parents of high school juniors, be warned: If your child chooses to go far, your bottom will thank you for investing in a seat pad.

Most campuses have Ride Boards in the student unions so that students can share rides (and gas) with someone who’s going home. I’m counting on lots of New Jersey students heading home for breaks. 

Okay, back to me. In the summer before my freshman year, my family drove me to Indiana for orientation, and to test out of required classes if I took them in high school, and to make up my class schedule.

On the way home, a huge thunderstorm came upon us. The highway was so flat we could watch the rain clouds rushing toward our car. As luck would have it, there was a good, clean hotel that we pulled into just ahead of the downpour.

The hotel was a tick above the questionable motels we saw along the way, and it happened to be my 18th birthday. My two younger brothers ran to the arcade, my mother went to bed, and my father took me to the bar for my first legal drink. If I close my eyes, I can still see the place; wide open, lots of muted golden light, with windows facing the storm, and me and my Dad, sharing a beer. I hold tight to that memory, because it was just the two of us, talking grown-up talk about my future. I remain ever grateful for that time with him. He passed away suddenly halfway through my sophomore year, with four kids in college and two in high school.

It fell to my mother to soldier on, getting six kids through college and watching them graduate.

Whenever I get weary, and think of giving up, I remember Mom in her younger days, rolling up her sleeves to go fight for her sons with the nuns.

And so, as I grieve for the loss of my girl and for her brother left at home, my mother’s words of solace come to me:

“Parenthood is not a job for sissies.” 

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