A second chance at the first day of school

As I arrived back from the Labour Day weekend, the conversations at work inevitably moved to everyone’s kids and their first day of school. Everyone had a story of first day jitters and first day excitement, and as most of my colleagues are 10 to 15 years younger than me it was also inevitable that I got incredulous looks as I shared that I’d deposited one of my two sons at university, leaving home, alone. “My god,” they gasped, “how does THAT feel?”

I’ve struggled to answer that question. When my older friends walked me through it before we got onto the university preparation carousel, and they described it as a whirlwind, I’d thought, like any new parent experience, “eh, how bad can it be?”

We’d visited three universities and we looked at them, our firstborn forging ahead on the tours, the same way we’d reviewed day care options back in the day. Where will they play? Where will nap time be held, and what do you serve for lunch? Really, there’s more stuff – like how much is this going to cost per day? I’ll just say that when Tom Mulcair comes up with a university tuition plan at $5 per day, he’ll get my vote!

You worry about nutrition, you worry if they’ll get enough sleep, and yes, you pay some attention to the academic and social value they will receive.

We spent months on choices and applications, just like the first daycare. Once that was settled there were massive loads of paperwork required to get tuition, residence, meal plans and roommates sorted out. The forms were endless.

And just like every September when they go back to school, the clothing budget gets blown up in the quest for the right wardrobe. “Seriously, Mom, I cannot wear high school sports sweatshirts in university! That’s like wearing a junior school sweatshirt to the first day of grade nine. Not happening.”

I helped him pack, or rather cleaned up behind the packing, and then understood why he didn’t want my help packing – too many high school secrets revealed. I would try to help by pulling boxes out of the back of the closet for consideration.

“What are we doing about this darling box of your Minor Atom hockey jerseys? … Wait, what is that hidden in this box? Really? Hidden with your Minor Atom jerseys? Really?!?”

I discovered in some areas he’d not completely outgrown his bad habits from JK. Some of you loyal readers will remember a bad time, 15 years ago, when I discovered the firstborn was a kleptomaniac, methodically and stealthily stealing Lego from the JK bins. I found his stash deep in a shoebox in his closet back then, and made him take the walk of shame back to the school to return the pieces.

Let me just say this same kid currently has an impressive collection of T-shirts and I know I purchased only half of them. Friends, if your son is missing clothing, come by for a visit at our ‘found’ bin.

In some ways, it is easier to prepare versus the early school days. He is 18 now, and independent in his activities, his ideas and his opinions. Particularly his opinions.

Oh, the opinions.

There were days this summer when people asked me if I was ready for him to leave home and I jokingly said that if they had a drive-thru drop-off for university, I’d be the first in line … just pull up, roll him and his gear out and drive away. There comes a time when the house is too small for so many men and an opinionated mother.

But do you remember that feeling, when you dropped them at JK for the first time? When you walked away from the child that you dreamed of for years, you grew for nine months, you nurtured for four years, and then you let go of their tiny hand and waved goodbye as they walked into JK? You remember that first 30 seconds apart probably not as “freedom!” but rather as “What? How do I walk without that little hand tucked in mine? Where did that time go?”

And for the entire day, you felt like NASA in Houston during the Apollo missions – your child is on the dark side of the moon, no communication, no knowledge of how they are. You are floored by the deep vibration of unease shivering through you as you have to trust them, other people and the universe to take care of your most precious gift in life. Remember that?

What’s it like to drop your child at university? Like that. Exactly like that.

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