Tears trickled down my daughter Jillian’s face when our family was about to leave her dorm room just hours after she moved in on Labor Day in 2017. The first night in a college dorm is an understandably emotional experience for many families.
When a son or daughter enters college, it’s a rite of passage for the student and the parent. I’ll never forget traveling into Manhattan that day with Jillian as she moved into her Pace University dormitory.
I remember the tiny, packed elevator with a scent of Indian food and mold. The flickering fluorescent lights in the hallway and the uneven paint job in the comfortable confines of her new living space.
Her room was so small, it reminded me of a hilarious episode of HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords.” I cracked up at the scene of the housewarming party for an apartment that was literally the size of a closet. Welcome to New York, the biggest city with the smallest rooms.
Staring at the myriad skyscrapers in my little girl’s big new hometown induced a lump in my throat.
On the way along the New Jersey Turnpike, I sung, initially as a joke, my favorite Beatles’ song, “She’s Leaving Home.” By the time I hit the second verse, laughter nearly turned to tears.
After assembling Jillian’s bed and grabbing dinner, it was time to cut what felt like another umbilical cord, a rope, which tethered her from the childhood my wife and I created and cultivated for our first born.
Tears trickled down Jillian’s face. Jillian is our only emotional child. Her display reminded me of the night when she graduated from high school. A bunch of her friends gathered around a campfire with some guitars at a graduation party.
When her pals played Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” Jillian lost it in front of about 30 friends when her prom date Basil sung, “Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’ / ’Cause I’ve built my life around you / But time makes you bolder / Even children get older / And I’m getting older, too.”
Just writing those lyrics makes me weepy. I have to recall those lines if I ever become an actor. “You still have the summer with us,” I told Jillian. “It will be alright. When you focus on school and immerse yourself in New York, you’ll be fine.”
I was like Nostradamus. Weeks would sometimes pass before I heard from Jillian, who has a 3.9 GPA after 3½ years in the neighborhood she calls “The 212.” It helps that she became best friends with her roommate, Ari.
Jillian works 40-plus hours a week, goes to school full-time and juggles a pair of clients as an independent music publicist. It all worked out for her.
Jillian and I recently looked back at her initial dorm days and laughed. I revealed that I navigated through the emotional roller coaster by reminding myself that I had three younger children.
My older son, Eddie, 18, was next in line for college. Eddie was all set to start university life in August. However, a few days before his first day of class, his admissions counselor asked him if he was going to attend or defer due to the pandemic.
“Defer, what do you mean?” Eddie asked.
After receiving the details, Eddie asked his college baseball coach about starting college the following semester. Since there was no baseball last autumn, he was given the green light to defer. Eddie made the last-second decision to hold off.
Since Eddie’s school is offering a hybrid of higher learning, he opted for the virtual experience. So instead of moving into a dorm, he’s taking classes in his bedroom. No travel or emotion involved after he started a new chapter.
There were no tears shed, just like there was a lack of pomp and circumstance when he graduated from high school last June. Unlike some of his friends, Eddie has no interest living in a ghost town of a campus.
My friend Joe’s son Kevin is also a freshman. Kevin, 18, moved from Los Angeles to suburban Chicago. “He has his own dorm room and is really happy,” Joe said. That’s so even though he’s isolated.
Northern Quest Resort & Casino’s public relations director Julie Holland’s daughter Grace opted to leave Spokane for California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif., last summer. The school is hybrid. Grace decided to live in an apartment in a state that has been in lockdown mode for much of the last year, but she’s happy and faring well.
Holland deserves mom of the year honors for driving 20 hours south so her daughter could take her next academic step in the manner she desires.
It’s worked out so far for Grace, who is compliant. My friend Jeff’s daughter Ava chose to live on campus and two months into the semester was stricken with the coronavirus after a party at her apartment.
Starting college is different for students and parents just like much is different during the pandemic. Holland told me that parents and students had a certain day and time to unpack. Parents could only help out during that time slot, and that was it.
Apparently there was no time for tears, which is sad since I have a penchant to let go of some moisture while I let go of my children as they cross over into adulthood.
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