College signals new life for parents, too

October 2, 2018

The Schmitt family — Donna, Chloe and Ben — bid farewell to Jordan (far right), as she begins her freshman year at Ohio University.

There’s an unfamiliar ache now when I walk by Jordan’s bedroom each morning and head downstairs toward the coffee pot.

Her room is empty. Her bed is tidily made, sans pillows. The bare hardwood floor is exposed as her rug has disappeared (her younger sister Chloe swiped it).

She’s gone.

In late August, I joined millions across the country in adjusting to life as the parent of a college-bound kid.

We woke on a Friday morning, packed two cars with blankets and bags, a shower caddy and wall hangings. Jordan was headed to her freshman year at Ohio University in Athens.

She hopped in the car with me. My 15-year-old accompanied my wife in another vehicle.

“I have no idea what’s in front of me,” she told me as we pulled out of our driveway.

I bit my lip. Luckily, a pair of sunglasses shaded my watery eyes.

“Well, we’ve got three hours to talk it through,” I answered.

And chat we did, about her anxieties, her aspirations and the friends she’d miss.

We arrived, went through the motions and said our tearful goodbyes, more on that later.

A friend of mine who works as a therapist told me there’s a steady flow of grieving parents like me each fall.

That made me wonder: Should colleges do more to prepare parents for this sudden jolt? That’s really not their job. My guess is such resources exist, but it would be up to me to take advantage of them.

I turned to a Trib editor and friend, Jerry DeFlitch. He’s been through it several times.

He sent me a few emails of encouragement, sort of.

“There is no upside,” he wrote. “Sorry, that’s the best I can do.”

He followed up with a lighter note that brought it all home.

Don’t love your kids, he wrote jokingly.

“They really are money-sucking vampires and financing their dreams requires you to shelve whatever you consider the good life ... especially if you have three of them,” Jerry said. “And then one day, they become a civil engineer who earns the very difficult P.E. level, an environmentally conscious educational consultant who Syracuse valued so highly they pay for her Masters Degree, and an educator who finds his greatest reward teaching inner city kids literature even though he has advanced administrative training. And then they hand you grandchildren and you realize that all of it was the only good life you ever wanted.”

As I stood in front of Jordan’s dorm and hugged her goodbye, I looked around the college greens and saw scores of parents going through the same thing.

The rest of us got back in our car and tried to compose ourselves.

Then we looked up and saw this towering athletic dad openly weeping as he hugged his girl goodbye.

He opened his wallet and started handing her $20 bills.

That was all we needed to burst into laughter as we hit the road, a little lighter and forever changed.

We have no idea what is in front of us.

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