Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand in hand. ~Emily Kimbrough
It has been three weeks since my older son and I left for Denver, yet it feels like a lifetime ago.
Three weeks ago, we were finishing the final shopping: bedding, school supplies, socks, and underwear.
Three weeks ago, we were packing the two Sterlite containers, the IKEA Frakta bags, and reviewing the list of “must-haves” in his dorm room: Command hooks, power strips, and a laundry bag.
Three weeks ago, I confirmed hotel and car reservations, double-checking our route and weather reports for the trip.
Three weeks ago, I focused on being in the moment, holding on to the feeling of my husband, my boys, and me as family. The mundane, day-in-day-out feeling that I had taken for granted was now sacred and special, more meaningful as the minutes ticked closer and closer to our departure.
Saturday morning, the day we left, I arose early to shower, dress, and add the last few items I needed for the trip into my bag. I drank my coffee, sitting in the silence of the family room, my nervous energy forced me to get up out of my chair. I puttered around the kitchen, tidying up the already-spotless kitchen counter. I wanted to take in the moment, yet there was a pull to get on the road. The feeling of not wanting to let my son go juxtaposed with a desire to hurry up and get him out the door.
The rental car loaded, we pulled out of the driveway at 7:35 AM after saying good-bye to my husband and younger son, forced to stay behind due to work and school commitments. My heart pounded with excitement until I glanced in the living room window, where Cody, our rescue dog, cocked his head, probably wondering, “Will they come back?”
The road trip went smoothly: I drove, my son slept. We made stops for gas and to use the restroom and idly chatted in between stops. We spent one night in Nevada, the second night in Salt Lake City, and arrived in Denver late Monday afternoon.
As we drove through Denver, my son perked up and asked me to drive to the university campus. Plans to tour the campus in late March to be canceled due to COVID-19. My son had been a bit apprehensive about committing to the university without ever having stepped foot on the campus. I gave a sidelong glance; there was a look of adventure on his face.
I didn’t respond. Instead, I drove. I was irritated and tired of driving. I was disappointed my son had slept almost the entire way from the Bay Area to Denver. I was annoyed that he had missed the changing scenery and that I had missed the opportunity for some heart-to-heart conversations and time together.
I found my way to the university. We sucked in our breaths simultaneously as we turned from South University Avenue on to East Warren: large yellow buckeye and horse-chestnut trees; their branches laden with gorgeous yellow and pumpkin-orange leaves, lined the street.
We walked the campus, taking in the lush green lawns, the historic brick buildings. I watched my son out of the corner of my eye as he took it in. He was silent as we walked toward the Engineering building, stopping to look at the large pond, chairs spread out in groups, all empty due to COVID-19.
I took his photo in front of the Ritchie School of Engineering, his smile with a trace of uncertainty that reminded me of his first day of kindergarten thirteen years ago.
It was a warm summer day, late August of 2007; a line of parents and 5-year olds stood in line in front of Room K. My son’s hand had clutched mine tightly; he was nervous about kindergarten, “a little excited, a little afraid,” he had told me in the car. I had talked about his fear of not knowing anyone and reassured him, “You get to make new friends,” I had said confidently, his grip loosened a bit in mine.
After school, he brought home a variety of papers and some artwork. This past summer, I cleaned out his old schoolwork and found a piece of artwork he made on his first day of kindergarten; it was his handprint alongside a poem called, “First Day of School,” one of the lines I remembered from the poem was:
“I was scared and a little shy.
But because of what you said
I was brave and got by….”
I lump formed in my throat. My son had grown taller, wiser, and more handsome over the past thirteen years. In just a few days, he would be starting his first day of school without a “first-day” photo, without me saying, “have a great first day!” or asking him, “how was your first day back?”
“Mom?” my son said, bringing me back to the present. “Are you ready to go?”
“Mmm-hmm,” I murmured.
My son smiled, took my hand; “It’s okay, Mom.”
I smiled back, “I know,” squeezing his hand, “I know.”
He loped across the parking lot back to the car, confident, happy, and determined.
It was now my turn to be brave.