Like countless parents across the country the past two weeks, my wife and I dropped off our two kids for the first time at their new schools. Unlike most, however, it took a considerable amount of driving to accomplish the task. For example, it was a 270-mile round-trip to deliver our youngest son to his orientation weekend at Point Loma Nazarene University, a small Christian school on the coast just north of San Diego.
While there, my wife, son and I participated in activities designed to acquaint the freshman with their new home-away-from-home, and to gently but firmly separate helicopter parents from their almost-adults.
We helped move most of our son’s worldly possessions (or at least as many as we could stuff into the back of my truck) into his new dorm. Next, we made an emergency visit to the nearest Target and wandered the aisles in search of survival items somehow forgotten back at home (toothpaste, shaving cream, microwave popcorn) and found ourselves part of a parade of parents flanking frightened freshman with deer-in-the-headlights looks on their faces. Finally, it came time to say our goodbyes and hug, say a few more goodbyes, then head back north on the 5 freeway.
The conversation between my wife and I on the way home was about as superficial as it has ever been in almost 25 years of marriage – neither of us wanting to say a word about missing our son already. And yet, the hardest part about that trip was that we both knew it was only the first of two we had to make in order to drop our two boys off at their respective new schools. In fact, the second trip began within hours of arriving home from San Diego. That’s when my next-oldest son and I jumped into his laughably overloaded Nissan pickup, filled the tank for the first of countless times, and headed east out the 210 freeway into the pre-dawn darkness.
Merging onto northbound highway 15 in Rancho Cucamonga, my son and I settled into the Frontier’s seats for the rest of our two-day, 1,212-mile (door-to-door, yes, I measured) drive through Las Vegas, Nevada, St. George and Salt Lake City, Utah, the southeastern corner of Idaho and finally, into the high, hilly country of Montana.
Only a handful of miles from the University of Montana in Missoula, our destination, we pulled off the main highway to make a pit stop at Rock Creek – home to some of the country’s best fly fishing waters. Although his rods and tackle were inaccessible, buried deep within the truck’s cargo, my son just couldn’t wait to see up close some of the countryside and wild water that lured him to transfer to U of M after two years at Pasadena City College. He practically leapt out of the truck when I pulled over onto a dirt and gravel turnout overlooking a breathtaking view of the river.
Surrounded by the hum of late-summer insects, watching my son watch the hypnotic currents and eddies of the swift-flowing water, I had no doubt that this was a place where he would thrive – both in his education and in life itself. He may have been born and raised in Southern California, but his head and heart have always been far away among the fields, forests and wildlife that relentlessly call to natural-born outdoorsman like himself.
My wife flew out to meet us midweek and to help make our son’s dorm feel as homelike as possible so far from the real thing.
During orientation, incoming students were welcomed with games and food, speeches and ceremonies. Finally, it was time for a last round of goodbye hugs and tears and a flight back home for mom and dad.
May I say to all of you parents who thought it was emotionally wrenching to drop off your kids last week at kindergarten, elementary or maybe even middle school: Trust me – you ain’t seen nothing yet.
I’ll see you ‘round town.
Jim Chase is an award-winning advertising copywriter and lifetime CV resident. Find him online at www.wordchaser.com.