I dropped my last kid off for his last semester at school. Among the three kids, four years of college and two semesters per, there were quite a few precedents for this. It could be easy arithmetic to determine the exact number, but there was a semester abroad, an unexpected disaster, and at least one time when I didn’t do the dropping. Nonetheless, I have done this dozens of times. Each time after a clingy hug from me, I give a soulful look and good wishes, most often quoting my dad with, “knock ’em, dead, kid,” or one of his other exhortations of love and confidence.
I also have a rather unfortunate tendency to mark these moments as particular milestones for me and my children; hence the first sentence. When my oldest was turning 10 I told her that I was about half done with her. It had an unexpected effect on her, as if I were going to turn her out into the cold when she was 20 or so. Maybe I should have said, more accurately, that she was about half done with me! My view then, and borne out now as she enters her 30th year, was that your influence as a parent waxes and then wanes as the double digits add up. By the time they graduate from high school, you are done in many ways as a parent.You and they might even spend the next 20 or more years trying to undo some of that influence.
I don’t say any of this with great ruefulness. Some of my greatest pleasures as a parent have come from and with my kids after they left high school. They are interesting, fully conscious adults, a pleasure to behold and to engage. I am also the person that cried at the last day of elementary school for each of my kids. This could sound like mourning, but as these kids would tell you, I cry at anything! So my tears represented a depth of feeling; they were the product of reviewing a year in each of their lives. I am lucky that those years were nearly all high points; the low ones marked by the really, really bad math teacher, the witless class parent or the screaming soccer coach.
Oddly for people born in NYC and raised there and Westchester, my three offspring went to three different schools in the same Pennsylvania area code: 610. One result of me returning to Pittsburgh to live is that I am now twice as far away from all of those schools as I was in New York. So the drop off for my son requires an overnight with one of my wonderful sisters cleverly situated near by. Another habit I have had when making these trips was to calculate the fastest, most scenic, shortest mileage routes to and from. My girls’ schools were a nearly identical commute, but I changed routes to see if their 10 mile separation produced new options. Need I say that these were occupations for my trip back after I deposited them? An idle mind is the devil’s workshop, as the good nuns would say — and did with numbing regularity.
As I drove away from my son’s house, I started to calculate the time and distance between him and my sister’s house, and I realized that this would be useless information, and it was then that I fully realized that this was the last of these moments. I say fully because that night, after we got the snow board bag, clothing, Christmas and birthday gifts safely inside A’s house, I gave him a very long hug and said only, “I love you.” Not because I didn’t want the ghost of Jack Malloy whispering in his ear, “tell ’em where you got it and how easy it was,” or because I didn’t wish him anything other than the success he has earned. It was because I will never be in that situation again and I was mute with the impact of that. What I also know is that is the truth of every moment.