Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thirty Years: Then and Now

Thirty years ago today I started college.

Today I dropped my son off at the very same campus.

My parents came to my college exactly twice: that first move-in day, and graduation. I don't remember having all that much stuff to move in: a bunch of t-shirts and flannel shirts, a couple of pairs of jeans and cords; a handful of sweaters; a couple of nice outfits; linens and toiletries; and of course the stereo (which includes the record collection) because naturally the first order of business upon arriving in a dorm room is to generate music.

I was a first child, but the kid I just took to college was my last, so he had the benefit of the wisdom of his elders (sibs, that is) as well as the smarts to listen to them, so his stuff fit easily into the van. His necessities included the microwave and TV, as the roommate was bringing the fridge and game system, plus his laptop, printer and calculator -- which of course included the required cables, surge protectors, power strips and other accouterments. He spent the evening in the hotel the night before move-in copying the entire travel case of CDs onto his laptop.

As soon as we got to his dorm room, the first thing he did was whip out that laptop and fire up the music.

My folks helped me carry stuff to my room, but didn't seem all that anxious to watch me unpack. My mother wanted to make my bed, but I didn't want to let her. I loved them very much and was glad that they were there, but I couldn't wait for them to leave so I could go do things like pick up my ID and check out the bookstore.

The roommate arrived, complete with parents to whom you'd be tempted to apply the term "helicopter", except that the connotation of "hovering" implies more space than they seemed to give him. I sat quietly by the window watching as they unpacked and arranged and organized, knowing that both boys were just waiting until we left to re-arrange it all to their liking. The roommate seemed very easy-going; I think the Nestling and he will hit it off very well indeed.

When I began college, there weren't any "family" activities. "Parents' Weekend" didn't even exist yet. I don't think my parents even expressed much interest in wandering around the campus, although it's not like I knew my way around yet either.

We headed off to get his ID. "Where is this building?" he asked me. "Way up at the other end of campus. I'll show you."

As we headed off, he was quickly joined by two girls. They all introduced themselves and headed up the hill much faster than I could go anymore, so I huffed and puffed a growing distance behind them. Only when I yelled after them, "Turn left here" did they turn and acknowledge me. We found our way to the ID office where, after filling out a long, complex form (4 x 6 inches; "Last Name," "First Name") on orange paper under a sign that read "Please fill out the orange form" we proceeded through a fast-moving line where his picture was digitally recorded and his college ID card duly issued, complete with his meal plan stored in the magnetic strip.

At the entrance to what was the main Student Union building in my day was a large white tent covering a collection of tables that housed assorted University services and offices felt to be of interest to Families. It was named, not unreasonably, the "Family Resource Tent." Most of the stations were offering goodies of one sort or another (frisbees, keychains and lots of candy) so we made the rounds. I offered myself as a resource to the Pre-Health Professions Advising department. What better time to infect docs-to-be with the assurance that Primary Care is worth it, despite what they're going to hear in med school and beyond.

Next stop was the bookstore, where we dropped $300 on the rest of his books (the ones he hadn't been able to find on ebay.)

There were orientation events to which families were invited all the way up until 4:30. I still had a six-hour drive home, so I had no intention of staying for them. By about 1:00 I could tell that although he was still enjoying my company, my kid was ready for me to go. He helped my schlep the empty plastic tubs he'd used to pack his stuff back down to the car, where he tossed them in the back to rattle around the huge, empty expanse.

I'll never forget the actual farewell to my folks. My dad hugged me, said goodbye and went to get the car. My mother hugged me too, and then said this:
Be good, and have fun. And if the two don't go together, "have fun" comes first.
Unexpected words, especially from a mother in 1977. I've treasured them for thirty years.

Today I said those same words to my youngest child as I sent him off into the world, from the same launching pad as I, thirty years ago. This time, though, I was headed home and he was the one staying behind, unbearably eager to begin this next phase of his life.

I remember my mother's face dripping with sweat as we said good-bye. Even in New England, August is hot as hell.

I was pretty sweaty myself, and I looked forward to getting in the car and cranking up the A/C. The dorms aren't air conditioned, but at least he has a fan for these last few sweltering August nights.

Soon enough the air will turn salty-crisp, and he'll walk to his classes -- in the same buildings as I did thirty years ago -- under verdant greenery transformed into that magnificent explosion of reds, oranges, yellow, golds and purples that annually grace the Northeastern United States. This fall foliage will peak for him first up in Boston, then roll down the I-95 corridor like a raging tsunami of color down to me in Philadelphia, where I'll be basking in the glow of the end of my children's childhood. It will continue down to Washington, where my father revels in the accomplishments of his descendants; and then a little further, down to the cemetery in northern Virginia, where my mother rests in peace.


At Sun Aug 26, 09:53:00 PM, Blogger Dr. J. said...

That's the most prosaic piece of writing I have read in a long time, blog or elsewhere. It's wonderfully written and pulls the reader right into the moment. Thanks for sharing!
Dr. J.

At Sun Aug 26, 10:08:00 PM, Blogger ER's Mom said...

Beautiful. Your mom sounds like a right smart gal.

At Mon Aug 27, 06:36:00 AM, Blogger Elaine said...

My young left the nest some years ago now, and their leaving was the same - but it was the same, of course. Thanks for sharing this.

At Mon Aug 27, 09:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great piece. Loved the contrast.


In my experience, Amazon is a better place to pick up used books than eBay, particularly as your son gets into more specialized classes where fewer of the necessary textbooks will be floating about...

At Mon Aug 27, 11:12:00 AM, Blogger Lynn Price said...

Great story, Dino. You also made me realize that my college career began thirty three years ago...eeek. I forgot I was that old.

At Mon Aug 27, 12:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dino,

Lovely story. Interestingly, my mom said the exact same words to me when she said said goodbye to me in New Jersey, 29 years ago.

Today was the first-day-of-(pre)school for my little muffin (the one w/ the boo-boo in her blood). But she's not unlike her cousin in her eagerness to begin the new phase of her life on her own. Her last words to me this morning were: "You can go now."

I took the hint.

At Mon Aug 27, 09:54:00 PM, Blogger Mom MD said...

Beautifully written.

At Tue Aug 28, 12:01:00 AM, Blogger Rach said...

Left the nest for college less than 5 years ago, but I cried when I read this. I could have written this about my experience. Your boys are lucky to have a dad like yourself.

May you have many more wonderful life cycle events with your sons.

At Tue Aug 28, 12:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would just like to add my two cents. I stumbled upon this blog a few months back while looking for a research topic (gardasil research in particular... but that's neither here nor there). And I enjoyed this write up so much. I've enjoyed many of your entries in this blog, but this one, wow. As a young adult, no where near the end of my professional career, I must say that I have no idea how it must feel to say goodbye to a young one as he steps into his college days. Through your writing though, I have experienced it.

Thank you :)

-Loyal Reader,

At Tue Aug 28, 06:29:00 AM, Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

Thank you Dr. J, Elaine, Lynn, MomMD and David.

Rach: email me (I can't find an email for you on your blog. Mine's on my sidebar just beneath the Laws of the Dinosaur.)

ER's Mom and Anon: Yes she was, and it doesn't surprise me that she said it again 29 years ago. I daresay she repeated it again 2-3 times more over the next few years.

Anon: The trick is to leave before they come right out and tell you to.

At Tue Aug 28, 03:28:00 PM, Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

Inadvertently omitted from the above comment:

RJS: Thanks for the Amazon tip. I'll past it along.

At Tue Aug 28, 09:22:00 PM, Blogger Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

A perfect post.

At Fri May 22, 04:44:00 PM, Anonymous Nancy B said...

As I read this, my eyes filled up, anticipating what I will experience when I will be "Letting Go" in a few years. The closing sentences were beautiful and I remember my parents wanting to see my oldest son go to first grade - it did not happen for my dad, but mom was as proud as a peacock. They both will be with my son is spirit when the high school graduation rolls around. Thanks Dr Lucy - I loved it!


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