Our Son Moved Into A Fancy Hotel, And It Shredded My Soul

dormsNot to be overly dramatic, or anything… Heh. But yesterday we helped move the older boy into his fancy-pants dorm, at a college about three hours from here.

It’s been a hell of an emotional week. He was a walkin’ talkin’ bundle of nerves, often on the cusp of tears. He had to say goodbye to his very sweet and universally adored girlfriend, which was a gut-punch for everyone within fifty yards, and wrote all of us letters that attempted to express his feelings and gratitude. And when he bid the dog goodbye, yesterday morning, I almost lost it myself. Andy is 13, and our boys barely remember a time when he wasn’t around.

But, at the same time, he was excited. It’s a good school, and this is a great opportunity for him. And all teenagers look forward to the days when they’ll have more freedom. So, it was a big sack o’ conflicting feelings.

I was doing OK with it, until Tuesday evening. Then I began to panic. Nothing will ever be the same again, I knew. And I didn’t care for that. The older boy is 18, and we’ve been making every life decision — down to what we have for dinner and at what time — with him and his brother in mind, for nearly 20 years. They’ve dominated our thoughts since before they were born.

And now he doesn’t live here anymore. Of course he’s barely been home for the past couple of years, and I think that’s how nature kinda sorta prepares us. But it doesn’t prepare us completely. On Tuesday night I found myself pacing around the house, looking out random windows, and running my hands through my hair.

As we drove to the school yesterday morning it was almost normal. We talked and joked around, as we usually do. But there was an anxiousness hanging in the air. Is this the last time? Will this ever happen again? I knew he’d be home in six weeks, and a long time over Christmas and next summer… So, I realized I was overreacting. But it’s not an easy thing to turn off.

Toney and I talked about the roommate. None of us had met him, or knew anything about him — beyond his name. We couldn’t find a Facebook page for the guy, which concerned us. What 18 year old doesn’t use Facebook? I hear it’s going out of style with the younglings, but they’d still have a profile, right?

I hoped he was a gigantic nerd. Toney was surprised by this, and I told her I think nerds are safe. Cool-cat hipsters are dangerous… so I had my fingers crossed for a rosy-cheeked dumplin’ child, wearing a vintage Pokemon shirt. Then I made a super-obscure My So-Called Life reference: “I hope he’s more Brian Krakow than Jordan Catalano.”

Yeah, I know. I have a lot of nerve calling anyone else a nerd. I understand this.

I’d never been inside the dorms. Toney had, but I wasn’t with her on that visit, for some reason. And holy crap! I’m not kidding, it’s like a freaking Hyatt. The lobby is insane, there are plants and framed art everywhere, and huge hotel-style elevators.

His room is really nice, with a private bathroom, and granite countertops. There’s central air, with their own thermostat, and an incredible view from a big window. It’s a long way from the dorm rooms I visited during the 1980s. Those were like prison cells with Bon Jovi posters. This was more like an upscale hotel room. The photo above is where our oldest boy is now living.

And the roommate? He seems OK, as far as I can tell. He and his mother were there when we arrived. He brought his electric guitar — some kind of crazy Yngwie Malsteem situation — and a NASA-caliber gaming computer. He has a beard (I thought it needed to be mentioned), and is from Maryland. The mother wasn’t exactly bubbling over with friendliness, but the kid seemed OK. Time will tell.

We got the room set up, and Toney and I went to Wal-Mart to buy some last minute stuff. Like a fridge. We were hoping ol’ Yngwie would bring one, but he didn’t. So, we put it on the list, and headed to Wally World.

And what the hell, man? What’s the story with all the Amish? I had no idea. But we passed several horse and buggies along the way, and Wal-Mart itself was teeming with people straight out of the 1800s. It seems weird, right? Amish at Wal-Mart? Or is my understanding of such things way off?

As we were in line, waiting to pay, there was an Amish woman in front of us. And she was buying all sorts of things that blew my mind. Like Cheez-Its. WTF? Also, lots and lots of Kotex products. And a huge jar of Miracle Whip. None of this stuff seems in character to me. The Amish eat Miracle Whip??

But we bought yet another $200 worth of crap, and took it back to his room. Then we went to dinner, and there was weird electricity in the air. Everybody knew the official goodbyes were right around the corner, and something strange started happening: we began sniping at each other. You’d think we’d be extra nice at a time like this, but no. A full-blown argument was about to happen, until Toney put a stop to it. “Enough!” she said, and it brought everything into focus.

We had a nice meal, and our two boys took a walk, presumably telling each other goodbye in their own way. Then it was time.

I tried to keep it together, but only did a so-so job of it. I haven’t cried in years, on account of my coal-black soul, but after we hugged our son, and he walked away from us… some ancient emotion took hold and I actually shed a few tears. I didn’t know it was still possible; I thought I’d long ago burned everything out.

When we got home we called him, and he was watching Netflix. And I talked with him again this morning. So, I guess we can make this thing work? We’ll see how it goes.

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  1. Brenda Love says

    Jeff, for heaven’s sake, the boy will be home in about 2 to 3 weeks, lugging an overstuffed duffel bag of laundry with him. Be of good cheer, friend!

    • That’s what i was thinking. 3 hours is an easy trip. Get a friend with a car and you are set.

  2. I did myself a favor by waiting until I was “advanced maternal age” (that’s what the medical records say) to have my only child. I figure dementia will set in around empty nest time, so I won’t be bothered by it.

  3. That’ll be me, next year. Our kids are the same age as yours, but the older one is in community college for a couple of years (started last year) to figure out what he wants to do with life so we’ve dodged that emotional bullet for now. There’s a good chance that next year they will BOTH be in school, and I’m so very much not prepared for that. At all.

    Good for you for getting through it!

  4. PattyBoots says

    Your boy(s) are lucky. As I was packing my car to take myself off to freshman year on the other side of the state, my parents were painting my room to turn it into an office. They couldn’t see me get out of there fast enough. And I was an only child!

  5. The Amish do not shop at Walmart.

    I left home when I was 18. No going back.

    I met Yngwie in 1985.

    • Jazzbone Swirly says

      Maybe Jeff was seeing Mennonite folks in the Walmart (?). Their thing is kinda like “Amish-lite”.

    • Bill in WV says

      Yes they do. And, they buy cases of Nair hair removal stuff.

    • Brenda Love says

      What was Yngwie like? What did he have to say for himself?

      • We didn’t spend much time with him, but he seemed fairly normal. He’s studying business administration, which I’ve always considered to be a catch-all for people who are adrift. But maybe I’m wrong about that. In any case, no alarms went off when I met him. It definitely could’ve been worse.

        • Uncle_Wedgie says

          I wonder what Yngwie expected your #1 to be like. Does he take more after you or Mom? (Not that either would be bad as near as I can tell)

        • Fairly normal sounds alright to you but that might make your son uncomfortable. After all…he did grow up around you and fairly normal people may very well freak him out. Although the beard thing is a nice touch. More of a bohemian than hipster perhaps.

    • A Walmart about 30 miles for here provides water, hay and shelter for Amish horses while the owners shop. So shop there they do, although I do not.

      Conflicted about the Amish – I dislike how they “educate” their children, and I think the children, women, and animals often get shitty treatment that was the norm in the 17th century, but is not OK today. Then again they grow the best tasting fruit and veg, some the Amish stuff I buy is absurdly good (but tended to by brainwashed child labor).

      One of the farm stands I buy from has the roughest, sharpest, coarse stone to park on; I’m always concerned I’m going to get a flat from it. The Amish children and women walk around on it with no shoes, the men wear shoes of course, because that shit would hurt.

      • My mother was a rural mail carrier, and her route included the Amish district. She had several flat tires every week, due to all the horseshoe nails.

      • What most people don’t realize is that the Amish run puppy mills. We adopted a rescue from an Amish puppy mill and the poor little guy is missing half and ear, has a massive scar on one of his paws, and enough emotional damage to fill an Amish barn. They treat them like livestock. Dear Amish phuckers, there’s a difference between chickens and dogs.

    • The way mart in the town I’m working in has 37 horse and Buggy parking spots for the amish

  6. Mrs. L. Bangs says

    Our youngest is heading back for her final year today. That must be why reading this made me tear up.

  7. The classes they take at college are only a small part of the overall education that will happen in the next few years, good and bad. My advice to my recent graduate and my current sophomore was “Everything in moderation”. I’m sure there was an eye roll as they turned away.

  8. Damn! I wanted to hear about dramatic, uncontrollable sobbing and wailing accompanied by rolling on the floor and gnashing of teeth. But that’s just me!

    How is Toney handling all this?

    Sounds like you hit the jackpot in the family sweepstakes, Jeff! Great kids and wife.

    • NY state also has a cult of crazy ass Orthodox Jews, look up the town of Kiryas Joel sometime.
      The Amish are everywhere now. Land taxes/values get too high, they move to where land is cheaper.

  9. Jazzbone Swirly says

    I’m starting to think that the Amish are smug.

  10. On the other end of that spectrum, my daughter will be starting kindergarten in 2 weeks and I am already a nervous wreck. She will be taking a school bus. I know I am going to cry my eyes out.

  11. squawvalleyskip says

    In just a couple minutes we are leaving to go to a going-away dinner for my 18 year old granddaughter. On Saturday she’ll be leaving for Cal State Long Beach. I already took her shopping for the fridge, a bike, and some other dorm life stuff, and a new Apple laptop. I’m so proud of her that I can’t even express the emotion in words. At the same time, I worry about her, and hope she’ll be OK. I don’t see her all that much, she lives with Mom an Dad about 90 miles from us. But I’ll still miss knowing she’s that close, instead of 3 1/2 hours away. I hope I can keep it together when we say our goodbyes. It won’t do to have an almost 60 year old, long haired bearded has been crying in the Outback parking lot. I sympathize with you, Jeff, and I’m proud with you at the same time.

  12. My thoughts turn to Andy on this phase. Get a tee-shirt or sweat shirt from your son that he hasn’t washed. (That shouldn’t be so hard after a week or so). If you or Toney hasn’t done any of his recent laundry, grab a shirt, pair of socks, whatever, with your son’s smell on them. Dogs, especially older ones, don’t do all that well with the separation thing. Depression can set in from missing his buddy who is all of a sudden gone. Put a shirt or whatever near where Andy sleeps. You get the idea. Andy might feel weird because one of his pack members went missing.

    • johnthebasket says

      A fine idea, dto, and, I think, right on the money. The contrary might also apply, I don’t mean Jeff should send the young man dogshit. Dogs are smellers, people are seers. Take a pic of Andy with your phone a couple times a week and send it to the kid. This stratagem has the additional benefit of connecting with Number One Son more often and letting Andy take the rap, so it doesn’t seem that Dad is over-communicating or bedchecking.

      My idea doesn’t have the power or validity of dto’s, but it DOES include the word dogshit, and that’s worth something.


  13. johnthebasket says

    Jeff . . .

    It’s OK for men to cry. I’d forgotten how cleansing crying is until my Mom died. Since 1995 I’ve cried without guilt or shame. I don’t mean continuously, but as appropriate in sad circumstances.


  14. What a nice update. I’ve read so much negative crap on the news lately, it is nice to read about a cool family experiencing a rite of passage.

    Well written Jeff. The boy will be fine.

  15. Skippy in WV says

    My only child is 4, and I dread the day that he will head off to go to college, hell for that matter elementary school. I’m kinda tearin up just thinking about it. A truly heartfelt update, I for one appreciate it.

  16. I packed the car and was sent on my way with both folks waving in the rearview. School was 2 hours away and when I arrived I was shocked at all the parents settling their kids. WTF? I thought I was supposed to go it alone. To be honest I felt so superior and thats saying a lot for the low self esteemed girl I was. Immediately got shit faced and barfed for 2 days. “Oh Mom I got food poisoning”.

  17. Shelly Warner says

    I feel your pain. Oldest moved back to school a couple of weeks ago and took the “baby” to college last week. It’s been so quiet around the house without my girls. I miss them terribly but take a little bit of solace in the fact that they are going to have the time of their lives. (I’m actually kinda jealous!)

  18. Jeff,
    My son did the vocational thing and studied plumbing for 3 yrs at college whilst living at home, so I never had the separation issue thang, but after leaving college as a newly qualified, but unemployed plumber he was a bit of a nightmare.
    But he got off his @ss, and used his hobby/ scouting experience in boating to get himself a job during the 2012 Olympics ferrying VIPs to the games (!).
    But he really made the tears come when he just drops into the conversation that he’s been taken on as an apprentice waterman for the Worshipful Company of Waterman & Lighterman here in London!!
    To say I’m over the moon is an understatement, but ?i’m loving the change into a conscientious young nan who is now always on time, even when it’s a 04.30 start 🙂

  19. Just this very day, I found a photo of our son the first day at UNC. It was only 30 miles from home, but it might has well have been 3000 for me. I knew and said, after we left him, “Nothing in our lives will ever be the same again.” and it wasn’t. Now he is 47 years old, and he has a daughter who is a rising soph at UNC. But you know what? You raised your boys well (if you tell the truth…LOL) and they will both come home again, to visit, even after they marry. So all is well – but I really do know how you feel and I’m crying for you now, thinking about how it felt in 1984.

  20. Hubs took our #2 Son to college last Saturday, here in Pennsyltucky 2+ hours away. Son couldn’t WAIT to leave this two bit provincial town!!
    I had to stay home to watch the old dog so we said our goodbyes at the car before they left.
    I am now an official empty-nester. Walking around nekkid and drinking whatever I want, when I want is back on the program…woohoo!
    Just wait til the last youngin’ is out of the house Jeff and you and Toney are F-R-E-E! No crying next year, there’s no crying in baseball, remember?

  21. Good old Ship.
    Lots of fond memories there. (or something like that )

    Drop us a line next you’re around, we can have beverages and tell stories.

  22. All I kept thinking was, “Imagine if “Yngwie’s” mom was wearing a smoking fish t-shirt?” And they all lived happily ever after.

  23. johnthebasket says

    Jeff . . .

    I need a favor, if it won’t take you too long. Could you send an email to CADUDE and give him my email address? If this takes more than five or ten minutes, I withdraw the request and we’ll figure out another way to communicate.

    Sorry, but I just have the one email account, and, though I trust all the correspondents on this site, one never knows who’s lurking. I already get entirely too many penis extension, ED cure, Sta-Hard, and great lover emails, so I’d like to avoid more, because none of these damn products works.

    Thanks for doing this, and for all the great writing over the years.

    Again, if this is more complicated than I think it is, just let me know and I’ll figure out something else.

    best wishes,


    • I personally have sent you so many penis extensions I have an outbox folder called John the basket of penis extensions.

      • Reminds me of an interview I read years ago.

        Interviewer: What would you do if it were raining breasts?
        Paul McCartney: I’d roon outside with a bushel basket!

      • johnthebasket says

        t-storm . .

        If ALL the products you’ve sold me had worked, I wouldn’t need a remote control to change the channel on my TV.

        Unfortunately . . .


    • JTB,

      Use the email from Google and the name CADude12345.


  24. As the Robin flys says

    Great description about your son heading to college. The empty nest is right around the corner for my family. I’m just glad that my kids have ventured forth into the world instead of taking up residence in my basement. My one hope is that they all find other places to live
    Our little town has very few opportunities.