(What follows is not the kind of thing I usually write here, but it is what’s on my mind today, crowding out other things. It is at once more and less personal than my poetry, and I don’t really expect many people to find it meaningful, but I needed to write it. So here it is.)
Today is move-in day at SU, and I’m seeing references to it everywhere. But all I can think about is how, more than a decade ago, we took our son to Tulane and moved him in two days before Katrina hit. No one knew how bad it was going to be because no one knew the levees would break. For me, having grown up in South Florida, it was “just a hurricane.”
When we were about to leave, I hugged him so hard and long that he said, “Mom, let go. You’re going to hurt your shoulders.” That was characteristic of him and still is. My then-recent shoulder surgeries were what he thought about. We let him decide whether to go back home or risk transportation to the Jackson Shelter. Of course, he wanted to stay, so we left just as road crews were turning the contra flow barriers to prevent traffic coming south.
A week later, when we picked him up from the station he’d been sent to in Atlanta, it was to do a second move in, this time to Cornell, where the school was welcoming displaced Tulane students until they could go back to Tulane.
A second time, part of my heart broke off and stayed with him in the student lounge turned giant dorm room where he was housed. The two things that made it far less painful were the gift card to the bookstore Cornell provided their visitors to make them welcome (a lovely gesture for students who’d had to leave virtually everything behind) and the young woman who gracefully welcomed our son to the lounge which she would no longer enjoy while the Tulane students used it.
Finally, in January, Tulane reopened in the midst of the devastation that was NOLA immediately after Katrina. So we had to let him go a third time. It was getting easier, and that was a good thing, given the milieu in which we left him. But true to his character, the only thing we ever heard from him about the volunteer work he did in the Ninth Ward in the following months was how cool the doctor said his unusual fungal infection was…the fungal infection his hands had to be cured of because he hadn’t always worn gloves while cleaning up debris.
Letting go is hard. My son trained me in the art well with his three freshman move-ins. A good thing it was, too, since he later moved to France and now is becoming a French-US citizen with a French wife and a French-US son.
That is what Move-In Day means to me: learning to allow a big piece of my heart to live wherever it’s best for that piece of my heart to be. Learning to trust that my son has learned enough self-sufficiency and respects himself enough to take care of himself. Learning to be grateful that my son is strong enough to do daring things. And, finally, learning to rejoice in his choice of a wife who keeps as close an eye on his well-being as I tried to do.