Health & Medicine

Final child's college orientation is a swirlof mixed emotions

My last child, the son who made my growing old a very ungraceful act, has graduated high school and is now about to enter college.

Buried in that statement is a pile of emotions that can result when bitter is mixed with sweet.

First and foremost, having him finally graduate is sweet. Despite what some teachers wrote to me on several occasions, my having to go to school to save the boy from himself was nothing to be relished. I have had to discuss my son with teachers who didn't have any idea who he really was. Those conversations were extremely difficult from my side of the desk.

Far better were the conferences I had with teachers who knew exactly who my son was, what he was up to, and who let him know he couldn't slide on barbed wire. Those teachers were professionals who sought a partnership, not a chaperone.

My son has had senioritis for about six years. But lately it had been worse. He had been disagreeable and has stretched the boundaries of our house rules for several months.

Often I have considered burying him in the back yard and letting his decaying body fertilize a new flower garden. My husband assures me that that is illegal, but I think I'd get away with it if I truly had a jury of my peers. My peers would be aging parents who had a child late in life and have no patience for impudence.

Now, though, that same boy, although more mature, is headed off to a place for which I am denied any oversight. There will be no phone calls, no e-mails. He will have to do this on his own.

The only conferences I will have with someone other than the boy himself will be with our Lord.

Another dollop in that bittersweet pile is the loss of some of my discretionary funds.

The boy had a full scholarship to Murray State University, the school my husband and I favored after only one visit. (Can you sense the "but' coming?)

But, the boy didn't want to attend Murray. He liked the school, but his favorite all along has been the University of Louisville.

He roots for U of L in athletics, wears U of L gear, and has proclaimed red his favorite color. He wants a red phone for his birthday and was disappointed we refused to get him a red car.

Fortunately, U of L did give him a scholarship, so all of our savings were not lost. Plus, gas prices being what they are, we'll save a little bit going to and fro. My husband and I don't allow freshmen to have automobiles at their disposal. That comes only after a couple of semesters of good grades.

Last week was the last time I will have to attend a freshman orientation for any of my children. That is indeed sweet. My husband, however, took a pass.

I didn't understand that. I've been to three. He's made only one. I think both parents should suffer equally.

During one of the sessions at the daylong orientation, the dean of students asked how many of us were about to send off our first child. A little more than half raised their hands. He comforted them and acknowledged that this might be a difficult time.

Then he asked how many were sending off their last child. I am ashamed to say that those of us who raised our hands also involuntarily but enthusiastically let out shouts of joy. We couldn't help ourselves. And it was good to see I was not alone.

The dean smiled but issued no words of comfort. He simply thanked us for enduring yet another orientation.

Throughout the extreme heat of the day, we parents walked from one gathering to another, learning how often we should try to contact our children and how wide we would have to open our wallets.

My son and I visited the room that has been reserved in his name, and I once again marveled at the smallness. My son, however, was more astonished at how he would have to share a bathroom with several other guys, probably all at once.

He then walked me halfway to the parking garage, gave me a halfhearted kiss and half-waved good-bye. We were, after all, in public.

He had to stay another day to finalize his schedule and have fun with his group. That had to be done out of the eyesight of parents.

When I picked him up the next day, he had had enough. In fact, he called me while I was shopping in Louisville. I didn't have to hunt him down.

That was a first for both of us.

With my daughter and older son, the last thing they wanted to do was return to parental rule. This one had sought me out throughout the previous day, asking whether I had made any friends or if I was having fun. When I had mentioned that I might slide away between sessions, he informed me that we had to visit that dorm room, an event that wasn't scheduled until after 5 p.m. I had to stay.

That was sweet, but I wasn't about to let it sway me. The bird was getting kicked out of the nest, and I had two months to get the hatchling ready for flight.

There will be some perks. All of our friends get to go on vacations any time they want to. They cheerily announce trips to the Caribbean in January, or say they are heading for Hawaii in October.

My husband and I have had to say no so many times, they don't even invite us any more. Their children are grown and out of college. We still had a child in high school. We couldn't leave while school was in session. And when school was out of session, we felt too much guilt to travel without the kids.

Plus, we had to save for tuition, fees and books. There was no money for frivolous things like old people having fun with their own money.

Maybe that time will be soon. The boy is just as evil and probably as lazy as ever, but now and then he utters a kernel of wisdom indicative of sanity. He calmly added another class when I explained that 13 hours a semester were not enough to graduate within a decade.

He has been making his bed every other day or so and keeping his room cleaner than before. I explained that a reasonable roommate would toss him out if he were to turn their shared room into a pigsty.

And he even makes himself available for conversations now.

This is just that eggshell stage. His emotions are all over the place. His fears are heightened because his next step is an uncertain one. It might appear that he is walking into the darkness, but he'll soon discover that there is firm ground out there to stand on.

I have to be careful how I step as a parent, but step I will. The difference is that I have been here twice before and he hasn't. I'm a pro.

I know there is a cruise ship in my future. Many adventures lie ahead. I might even schedule a vacation in September.

Maybe not this September, though. I have to stay home in case my baby needs his mother.