Landing at university: A parent’s rite of passage

We delivered Delaney to school last week, in a ritual numerous parents of college students can appreciate.

What’s weird is I remember my first days of college vividly, and here our almost-19-year-old-son is starting on his adventure, at the University of Oregon. (Note to those who lean toward Beavers, don’t even bother with the rivalry jokes because I have two brothers who are OSU alumni.)

After getting through the Agate Avenue traffic jam and finding a parking spot a few blocks from Hamilton Hall (Tingle wing) we got Delaney unloaded and signed in and started the process of moving him into the tiny room he and another fellow will call home for the next nine months. It’s half the size of the bedroom he had at home. Life is full of adjustments.

Lorre and I helped him schlep his boxes and bags up the stairs (fourth floor!), and made a run to get the mini-fridge (an acquisition that Delaney and his roommate, Mac, from Wisconsin, would have to figure out where to actually put in that tight space).

Jokes with fellow Dads carrying loads up the stairs centered on “our nest is empty now, but not hers …” and “are you a Dad, or a big brother? Ha ha …”

I had not yet met Mac when I left Delaney and Lorre to unpack and walked the four blocks back to the car for the final box: a long plastic one that proved to be the heaviest (I found out later that its contents included his mini stereo, shoes, and a barbell). When I got to the top the fourth floor hallway door was locked. I rested the box on the ladder to the roof (“No access,” it said, seems to be an invitation to “party space!”) and waited for someone to come and open the door. The steady stream of parents and students had come to a strange lull, so I pulled out the phone and was about to call Delaney and ask him to come down and open the door when up the stairs comes a young man. I hung up, hoisted the box anew, and the student and I exchanged greetings. He put his key in the lock and – hurried through, the door closing quickly behind him.

Maybe he thought I was planning to go down the stairs with the box.

“Hey! A little help?” I called out, and he heard me, coming back and with a quick “sorry” held the door open. Suddenly I had a sinking feeling: Is this the awkward moment when I meet my son’s new roommate? Would Mac forever come to recall his roommate’s dad as that rude dude on the landing?

I never want to be That Rude Dude On The Landing …

To my relief the fellow headed all the way down the hall. Not Mac. I will probably never see the guy again. Or, who knows, he and Delaney live on the same floor and may end up becoming best buddies. College is full of possibilities.

A half-hour later, we hugged Delaney outside Tingle, told him we love him, and headed on our way, collecting our car from the bowels of the Matthew Knight Arena subterranean parking garage. It was an odd moment, truly bittersweet. We talked as we went to the car but I don’t remember what about.

The thing about taking your kid to college is that it’s more of a rite of passage for the parents than the student. I would describe our parting as not tearfully dramatic but lump-in-the-throat pragmatic. We drove a few blocks and found a place to get some much-needed refreshment, on a restaurant patio, enjoying a break in threatening weather. Moments after we got settled it started to rain and we headed indoors, where through the open door we saw the sun take over again about five minutes later. We stayed where we were but it occurred to me that these simple shifts in weather, and our response, were reflections of the varied, changeable feeling we felt at the time of leaving our son to his new phase of life. Sunny and cloudy. Four seasons in one day, as Crowded House sang.

We talked to Delaney once in his first week, to straighten out a last-minute paperwork issue. He’s up and down the stairs carrying his own load for now. I’m glad he has the experience of living on a top-floor walkup; everyone should, at least once. Life is full of landings: places of rest, and yes, places to encounter rude dudes.

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