It happens every August. The dog days of summer are starting to kick in and Long Island parents are preparing for what many have been dreading since their kids started high school. It’s time for little Susie or Johnny to leave the nest and fly off to college.
Unless you have gone through the experience, nothing will prepare you for the moment when you need to leave them on their own for the first time. You thought you had an emotional breakdown the night they had their first sleepover at a friend’s house? Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Like the first time you became parents, there is no handbook you can refer to when you hug them goodbye and they head out into life for the first time without you.
Of course, not everyone experiences that Hallmark moment in the same way.
Our firstborn, James, journeyed to East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania just a few miles over the Jersey State line off Route 80. Knowing he was only a few hours away (on a good day) was somehow comforting to us. You know, just in case.
On moving-in day, we packed a rental van with everything he was going to need and headed out for what we assumed was going to be a very emotional day. Back in 2007, we were required to create a school account we could replenish through our bank that would be linked to his school ID card. That card would be used for everything—access into the dorm, his room and, more importantly, his daily meals. Just to be sure, we gave him an additional $600 in cash.
That day on campus, we might as well have been invisible. By the time we did all the work and got him set up, he was ready to go off to his new life and seemed anxious to get rid of us. I had prepared myself for a truly emotional farewell like you see in the movies. Instead, it was more like when you help your friends move into their new home, except there was no pizza and beer at the end of the job.
We had planned to stay in a hotel overnight and take the boys out to breakfast the next morning. Instead, we jumped into the car and drove home. While perusing the paper on Sunday morning to take advantage of an afternoon movie, the phone rang and the caller ID indicated it was James’ cell phone. Uh, oh.
He had been to an off-campus party the night before and lost his wallet, which of course contained his credit card, his student ID card and all of his cash. What he was doing at an off-campus party on the first night, I can’t answer. I didn’t ask a lot of questions because, quite frankly, I already knew the answers.
Unfortunately for him, there wasn’t anything we could do to bail him out of this mess. He had to wait until Monday to get a new ID card and needed to borrow money from his roommates to get food from the cafeteria. After hanging up the phone, my wife and I looked at each other and shook our heads. When did our kid become such a knucklehead?
We continued to call him each week to find out how things were going, but sometime before Thanksgiving, he phoned to say he found the wallet. “The girl that hosted the party found it,” he said so triumphantly. “It was inside the pocket of a pair of jeans she found in her drawer and still had the $600 in it.”
At that point, I decided I didn’t want to know anything more about it. Turns out we were prepared for James to leave the nest, but he wasn’t ready to fly.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.