Taking My Son To College

Reflections from the author of Breaking the Bank

By Yona McDonough
Yona Zeldis McDonough
Photograph: Photo by Keith Price

The author of the great new novel Breaking the Bank reflects on a huge transition: Hers.

Today we dropped our firstborn off at college. Hardly a remarkable event in the scheme of things, but one that to me is both seismic and powerful; it will reconfigure both the family structure and all of our places in it.  Yet there was little overt drama to the day, which proceeded without impediment.

The drive to Connecticut was easy, the weather golden and clear.  We were too late for the freshman-parent lunch because my husband, a college teacher himself, had to make an appearance at one of his classes this morning, and so we drove up just in time for convocation, an event about which we had known nothing at all, as our son had not mentioned it.   No matter.  It was a lovely ceremony, full of not too much pomp and just the right amount of circumstance, held out in the main quad under a beneficent gathering of elms. There was a processional through an archway, a speech from the president that touched on the Madoff scandal, global warming and Thoreau, a serenade from the school chorus, and a lemonade toast, a long-standing school tradition. 

We were moved, and a little shaky too, blinking into the sun and wondering how we’d gotten, so quickly it seemed, from the "there" of infancy and toddlerhood to the "here and now" of almost manhood. Our son had no time for any of this, however, and longed to get on with more practical issues: obtaining his ID card, finding his room, unpacking. As we helped him unload the boxes and the suitcases that carried so much of what was essential to him, we discovered, of course, the things we had forgotten, like his Tempurpedic mattress pad, the mug stuffed with several of his favorite peach tea bags, the enormous container of detergent I had purchased in anticipation of his finally learning to do his own laundry. I was more bothered by these minor omissions than he was; he was just eager to move ahead and say his goodbyes. I felt I had barely had time to absorb the sense of the new place in which he would live before he was off to a meeting, a barbecue or both.

After a quick hug, during which I accidently smeared the shoulder of his white T shirt with my red lipstick (his faint annoyance both palpable and familiar) my husband and I found ourselves back in the car, returning to the home that would no longer be his, at least not in the same way, ever again.  The beautiful day morphed seamlessly into a beautiful dusk; we crossed into Manhattan under a wide sky whose fluffy gray clouds were lit with rose and coral.  The house, when we arrived, was quiet; our younger daughter was off with a schoolmate for a long weekend in the Hamptons. I have not gone up to his empty room yet; I am not ready to see it stripped so bare.  Instead, I will cherish a thought of him in the cool New England night, the glowing ribbon of his young life stretched out far, far ahead of him, smoothing his path, lighting his way.

Yona Zeldis McDonough‘s new novel is just out. 

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