The response we got to the text we sent our son, asking if he wanted to have dinner with us, was this: "Not really." My wife and I thought briefly about having hurt feelings. We could see him, across the lawn from us, walking in our general direction, following a group of kids that were all milling in the general direction of downtown. For him, the tour had not quite finished. There were still people to meet. There were still things to see. That is why we had made this journey. We had come for orientation, and that is precisely what our son was doing. He was getting his bearings.
That didn't mean that his mother and father didn't feel as if a great big trap door had opened beneath our feet. Bye, bye, son. We'll miss you.
Of course, I should have expected something like this. On the drive down, my wife and I were in the back seat while he drove and his buddy and future roommate rode shotgun. We listened to their music. We stopped at Burger King to find out just how many orders of chicken nuggets they could buy for ten dollars. They bought enough that it will be some time before our car does not smell of breaded poultry nodules. With barbecue sauce. And somewhere, about ten miles from our destination, our son cried out, "We're going to college!" To which his partner in nuggets enjoined, "I know, man!" High fives were exchanged.
It shouldn't have been any kind of surprise. This summer has been a flurry of anticipation and mild preparation for the big event: our son is going to college. For real. That's why we drove all that way and paid all that money just to have the dress rehearsal. That and the opportunity to sit in a number of different auditoriums to be indoctrinated into the world of collegiate parenthood. What to expect when you're expecting: The College Years. Sexual assault, binge drinking, academic probation. These were just some of the topics we were asked, as "supporters," to help generate understanding in our incoming freshmen. Providing, of course, that we ever spoke to them again.
In real time, it was only a few more minutes before we got another text, inviting us to come and find him at the old-time barbecue spot. Apparently, his group dissipated abruptly after his first flippant response, and he was looking for companionship. My wife and I were happy to oblige. We had some brisket and some salad and some lemonade, and enjoyed our time together. Until it was time for him to go again. More people to see and things to do. That's why we are sending him to college, after all. He knows us well enough. Time to see the rest of the world. I expect we'll still get together for dinner now and then.