The moment I thought about on and off for years has come and gone: My older son has been dropped off at college in Boston.
The process hasn’t been quite as rawly emotional as I expected — though it’s had its moments.
Like chugging through northern New Jersey in a rented SUV full of stuff, and letting the Seventies on Seven entertain us, as it often has on road trips … and recognizing the soft twangy opening to “Cat’s In The Cradle” and saying, quickly and quietly, “No. Not this,” to the navigatrix, who had no more interest in hearing it than I did and whisked us away to the relative safety of the Eighties on Eight before Harry Chapin could so much as open his mouth.
Or tooling back home again early this morning in a much emptier vehicle, and passing a Peter Pan Bus Lines bus bound for Hartford or someplace, and having my subconscious — which has been trained for decades to summon appropriate trivia, quips and apercus at the drop of a hat — helpfully remind me: “All children, except one, grow up.”
Yeah, sometimes I wish I could turn that off.
At the same time, there were bright spots in the soundtrack too.
It’s been our family tradition to play Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” on car trips whenever we cross into New York state.
On the way home, short a family member, I wondered briefly to myself whether we should still do it. Then I thought: Of course we should. We’re still a family, just in different places. And hearing it play felt pretty good. Reassuring, even.
Even Pink Floyd provided a ray of light on the trip. (Yeah, chew on that for a second.)
As I pumped gas into the big gray bomber before we set off for home, the speakers at the gas pump were playing “Time,” one of those oft-heard standards from Dark Side of the Moon. You know the words, but I’ll put the relevant portion here anyway:
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
As a kid I always wanted to get out and see the world, or at least a couple of places that weren’t my hometown. The situation described by the lyrics — a sort of failure to launch, or a failure to even try — seemed almost nightmarish. I never stopped to figure out why; it was just a strong feeling.
And while I know there are wise and intelligent people in the world who have never left their home areas, I’m still biased toward the idea that it’s good to go places, meet different people, have different experiences, hear different opinions, etc.
In going from suburban nowheresville Pennsylvania to the middle of Boston, my son has chosen that path. He may well end up back here or someplace like here someday, but right now he’s trying to extend himself.
And that makes it easier to see him move out of my daily life. I couldn’t really ask for him to be in a better place, or doing better things. (I could ask for it to cost a couple fewer bucks, but that’s life.)
The pic above is my last view of my son for the short-term future. (He’s the red speck next to the white station wagon).
On Sunday, we loaded him in. He wanted to say his goodbyes in the parking lot. So we did, and he walked back to his dorm to start his college experience. I waited to see if he’d turn around and wave.
And, y’know, he wasn’t wrong.
If I had to pick a Seventies on Seven staple to soundtrack the moment, and all the moments after, this one feels pretty good.
Beats hell out of Harry Chapin, anyway.