While I love summertime and its accompanying beach, baseball and boating, my favorite season has always been autumn.
The anticipation of college football, cooler temperatures, and Mother Nature’s annual display of fall colors just makes me happy. When you live in a town tagged The City of Oaks that last one is especially wonderful.
Throw in Thanksgiving and you have a near-perfect season.
The wonderful late summer/early fall tradition of “front porch photos" has driven me to the keyboard today. You know, the Facebook and Instagram shots of the kids heading off to the first day of the new school year. Coming out of the pandemic, this year’s album seems even more joyful.
New clothes and new backpacks are proudly displayed. Our little models stand patiently (or not) to have Mom or Dad snap cellphone photos that document this milestone day.
But there are age-specific trends associated with these shots.
The youngest have the biggest smiles and are willing to hold up hand-made signs announcing their grade level. As they advance in years, the smile goes from genuine to fake to barely patient to one accompanied by an eye roll. We begin to hear directions like, “hurry up” or “come ooooon” or “just one, pleeeeease.” As they age, kids become convinced that their social standing will be ruined if someone drives by and catches them in this awkward public pose. So first, the photo venue is moved inside. Then, what once was an activity with unified goals, becomes a tense negotiation requiring a paid mediator. (aka the other parent)
Those moms who are brave enough to post the kindergarten--fifth grade comparison shots risk drowning in a tearful sea of nostalgia...or at least a morning cocktail. Tough to watch the little ones grow up before our very eyes. Where did those years go?
And then there’s the bookend to these photo posts, the college drop-off pictures. Welcome to the big leagues.
Anticipated all summer long. Prepared for from Staples to Target to Lowes to Amazon, and more Amazon, and “where-did-all-this-cardboard-come-from-zon,” that date on the calendar looms large.
There are moments during that summer when what you need is a therapist delivered in a box. The push and pull of leaving home is a Mixmaster for the emotions, and the full arsenal of guilt, anger, regret, and fear are at the ready. Throw in a boyfriend or girlfriend headed to a different college, and you too could wind up on Dr. Phil.
Even though friends say, “I know what you mean” you are silently thinking, no you don’t. Nobody could be going through this many emotions and not have flashing blue lights in the driveway.
But you make it through. You pack the car, and pack the car, and... knowing full well that all this stuff is not going to fit in the monk’s cell at the other end of this trip. Not only can you not see out of the back of the SUV, but there are certain bridges that you need to avoid because of weight limits.
You can tell by how quiet the family is on the drive that each member rides alone with their thoughts. What is my roommate going to be like? When will everyone discover I’m an intellectual imposter, not nearly smart enough to be going to college? I wonder how much food they’ll let me eat (boys here)? How am I going to handle the goodbye? I wonder how long I should wait before I move into my sister’s room? I wonder if my duvet cover will clash with my roommate's choice. What’s a duvet cover (boys here)?
So, after a tense journey you pull into organized-campus-mayhem awash with temporary signage, brake lights, people, and hand-trucks. Administrators, upper classmen, and sweating volunteers direct you, unload your car, and help the nervous freshmen find their rooms. Roommates and their families are met and instantly evaluated. Friends for life. My life is over. We can sleep in the same room and not really be friends, right?
Dads and moms get a bonding opportunity over move-in challenges like how the furniture should be arranged, why can’t we get wi-fi, can you actually die of heat stroke, and will this ceiling hold an industrial Big Ass Fan. There are six people in the room and seven opinions on all issues. Thoughts like, well this is the least fun I’ve ever had drift through your mind. It often comes down to letting the moms work it out, letting the dad’s work it out (on some planets), or let’s see if Tuscaloosa has a hostage negotiation team available.
One or two tense meals follow with many of the same 10th grade first day of school picture dynamics thrown in. Maybe a quick trip to Home Depot to perfect the ingenious engineering solution the dads have devised to fix the monk’s cell storage issue.
And then, after a miserable outcome, the big goodbye.
Some families will tell you, oh, it went great. They are liars.
It is tough and all members of the family react differently. When we took Megan to Wake Forest, her sister Brittany was 14 years old and not an obvious big-sister groupie. Like all sibling relationships, it was complicated at times. But when we pulled out of that crowded parking lot and saw Megan standing between the cars and waving goodbye, Brittany burst into tears and literally cried for the entire two-hour drive to Cary, NC. And when I say cry, I don’t mean the sniffles. We’re talking dehydrating, waterfall crying. It did take our minds off of our grief, because we were both concentrating on the rising flood waters in the back seat.
We spent the night with friends, which was a good thing. If I had to listen to the heartbreaking wail of our youngest for the full six-hour drive back home, I surely would have gotten out of the car and walked into oncoming traffic.
So, for those with these moments in the rearview mirror or on the road ahead, I hope you realize how lucky you are. Not every family has the money, the health, or the chance for these life transitions.
Bless the memories. Keep the photos. And never forget to Ride to the Sunshine.