• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Dropping Off, the Dry Run

TG heads to freshman orientation …

July 6, 2022

On Tuesday I dropped The Girl off at the Trenton train station so she could catch a train to D.C. She’ll be staying with family for a few days and then heading to freshman orientation at the University of Maryland.

As far as both she and I were concerned, this was step one of the drop-off at college.

This coming weekend we’ll head down there for the parents’ part of it, then we’ll bring her back. The real drop-off is in late August. This was a dry run.

She had the same nervous energy I remember having at her age. Maybe a little less nervous and a little more energetic. The sociologist Richard Sennett once wrote that the anxiety of the teen years is because everything is possible but nothing is happening. She knew she was on the cusp of something happening, and her excitement was palpable.

There was a slight undercurrent of fear, of course. During the drive to the train station, we tacitly agreed to focus just on the immediate tasks at hand. She had never taken an Amtrak before, let alone by herself, so I tried to demystify it as best I could. The conversational serve and volley was much more animated than usual as each of us dealt with both the task at hand and its larger implications.

When I walked her into the station, she figured out the logistics immediately. She got on the correct train and reported that all was well. I drove to work.

It didn’t really hit me until I got home and realized that she wouldn’t be coming home for the rest of the week. No shifts at the restaurant, no hanging out with her friend group. This week, every dinner is for two. We’ll have to adjust the recipes.

When The Boy left for college a few years ago, the balance in the house shifted, but we still had TG. We were still in full parenting mode. When she goes, we’ll be without a child in the house for the first time since 2001.

I recently finished Susan Cain’s new book, Bittersweet, which was perfectly timed for this. (It’s a wonderful book in its own right, even better than her previous book, which I also loved.) She notes that the feeling of bittersweet comes from the simultaneous appreciation of beauty with the awareness that it’s fleeting. The awareness of loss is part of the experience.

That’s parenting. The goal of parenting, as we see it, is to get the kids to the point at which they don’t need parents anymore. Each new sign of independence and capability is a cause for celebration, even as it carries with it the awareness of greater distance. We’ve raised the kids with the clear goal of them becoming capable adults and good people. Sometimes the steps are subtle: an unexpected gesture, an acknowledgment from a friend’s parent that one of the kids helped theirs get through a tough time. But some steps come with spotlights and marching bands. Leaving for college is one of those.

I’m excited to see TG start to see herself as a college student and start to explore the world beyond Mom and Dad’s house. She’s ready. We will be, too. It just might take us a little longer.

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Matt Reed

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