Saturday, August 23, 2014


We dropped our daughter off at college on Thursday. Her roommate, whom she had been in touch with for several weeks, had arrived first with her parents and sister. As the adults helped unpack, and kids from the floor dropped by to say hi, it soon resembled the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera. Further throwing me off-balance was the other father's talk of an earring holder, which I kept hearing as "urine holder."

You can put it down to my jitters at sending my only child away to school, but I had found myself strangely unmoved emotionally in the days leading up to this. I came close to shedding a tear the night before the move, when my wife and daughter had a good sobbing session. The latter in particular had been quite nostalgic as of late, starting many sentences with "Remember when..." 

I told her more than once that I probably wasn't going to get emotional during the run-up to her leaving, that it would probably hit me the first night, when her mom and I could go to bed and triple-lock the door, knowing she wasn't coming home after a night out with her friends. 

But that was a lie -- I wasn't moved because I'd experienced this separation once before, shortly before her ninth birthday. I wrote it about it on my original blog, and thought it  applied to the current situation.

I reproduce that essay now, just as it appeared a decade ago:

When I was growing up, I had an preternatural fascination with celebrity divorces and deaths – you know, the important stuff. As such, my favorite section of "Time" magazine was "Milestones.”  Not until I became a father did I realize that most of our milestones are of a much smaller variety.

A week before her ninth birthday, Daughter was off to, by my count, her 47th sleepover of the year. Her friend's place was literally around the corner -- a minute-and-a-half stroll, tops. Daughter suggested that she could easily walk there herself. Wife and I were of mixed emotions: "no" and "forget it."

Now I have clear memories, living in Newport, RI, of being eight years old -- and perhaps younger -- walking three or four blocks to Hal's Corner Store for the daily paper. It wasn't unusual; most parents sent their kids on errands, unattended, especially in the summer. The idea of being picked up off the streets by some marauder, or getting flattened by a car jumping the curb, never crossed anyone's mind. Either that, or all the families were so large the parents figured if something happened, there'd always be another kid to send out for a pack of smokes.

But we have one child. It's a relatively safe, quiet, family-oriented neighborhood…in New York. So we offered a compromise. We'd walk her down the block. She'd cross the street by herself -- a first, by the way -- then continue to her friend's building while we watched from across the street. Daughter weighed the pros and cons.

     Pro: She'd still make her appearance alone.
     Con: Freakin' parents are still there for part of the trip.

It was good enough for her. We put on our coats and walked to the corner. The light was red.

Hugs. Kisses. Goodbyes.

The light was still red.

More hugs. More kisses. More goodbyes.

The light changed.

Our little girl, loaded down with pajamas, toiletries, pillow and American Girl doll, scampered East across the street before crossing South. No traffic, no cars jumping the curb. Perfect crossing weather.

I had to fight the urge to run after her.

As we walked on the street opposite her, Daughter ran -- out of excitement? A little fear? To get rid of us faster? -- to her friend's building. She spoke to the doorman, who sent her up the elevator, alone.

Time elapsed from crossing to arriving: roughly 30 seconds in Earth time; a year in worried parents'. Yes, yes, we felt pride in our brave little girl. We also felt sick in our gut, wondering if 15 would've been a more appropriate age hold such an experiment. 

I later thought about many of the major milestones in our kids' lives. Learning to walk. Going to school. Learning to bike. First sleepover. Learning to drive. Going to college. They all share one thing.


And even though the first time Daughter walked it was toward me, she started going in the opposite direction as soon as she found the confidence. The act of birth itself was the first physical separation of child from mother. It was just a warm-up for what was to follow.

The mysteries of successful parenting are dwarfed by this: We have children so they can leave.


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