Post-College-Drop-Off Moody; Books

I have some books to mostly-recommend, but I am feeling moody. I went grocery shopping for the first time since bringing Rob to college, and I kept getting little unexpected shocks. The amount of groceries doesn’t change much when going from seven people to six—but there are a few things that only Rob eats, or that he’s the main eater-of. So instead of getting a pack of bologna, I didn’t get a pack of bologna, because he’s the only one who eats it. And instead of getting another giant bottle of Tabasco sauce, I thought probably I could wait on that, because he and Paul are the only ones who use it. And so on throughout the store. Little weird pangs.

And some happy feelings too: “Ooo, Easy Mac! I wonder if he’d like that? He could make it in the dorm microwave!” “And here are some little Chef Boyardee ravioli bowls! I could send him one and he could see if he likes them!” “Breakfast bars are on sale; maybe he’d eat those on days he’s running too late to go to breakfast?” “What a cute little jar of Tabasco; that might be good in a care package!”

I am still waking up in the morning and doing my usual mental inventory, and then arriving with a startled feeling on the news that Rob is not here and is at college far away. He’s been away for a week before; he’s never been gone this long. And now this is “coming home TO VISIT” territory, rather than “coming home” territory. This is still his legal residence, but he doesn’t live here anymore. But I remember so clearly shopping for his crib. There were so many choices! We ended up following the Consumer Reports advice to get a cheap but sturdy crib and then spend the savings on a good crib mattress.

Sending a kid to college is an aging transition for the parent. I’m old enough to have a kid in college = I’m a certain level of old. This morning I noticed a couple of white hairs at the nape of my neck, among the ones that never get long enough to fit in a hairclip. Obviously those white ones must have been there before we took Rob to college. The skin on my underchin and throat is looking increasingly fragile. Two of my former classmates have grandchildren. There’s such a clear contrast to all those kids just launching now, just starting out now, all the big decisions still ahead of them.

I’m trying not to text him or email him too much. His college strongly recommends that during the first few weeks the parents leave it to the students to initiate conversation. But then I got nervous that he’d think we didn’t care about him and weren’t interested in what he was doing, so I emailed him to let him know that the college said that.

A number of years ago, a boy from our town went to college and died soon after in a fraternity hazing incident. I think part of the reason that story lingers, besides the obvious horror and tragedy and STUPID POINTLESSNESS of it, is that, at least for me, my gut instincts are misinforming me on whether or not it is safe for My Baby to be so far away. Just as when he weaned as an infant, just as when I put him on the bus for first grade, my feelings are that this is WRONG and BAD and I need to STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING. I am consciously overriding those feelings, because I know that it is good and right for him to go. But I imagine that other mom thinking, shocked, “I was right. I was right.” And every year there are parents whose worst fears are justified.

That’s too low. That’s too low to be thinking. He’s having a good time, and I will hope that he will not be one of the kids who dies because of alcohol in a funnel or whatever. It’s really very few kids that happens to. I really do mostly feel happy and good about this. The college’s convocation was streamed live, so I got to watch it, and so many of the speakers were talking about how diversity is crucial and good, and science is crucial and good, and how we need to support each other and have each other’s back at times like this, and how we need to work together to make a better future. He is living in a good place. He is doing what he is supposed to do next. If we kept him home with us he could still die.

I am having some regrets about my own college experience. I keep thinking how amazing it is that he’s in the strange stage of life where he is surrounded by ONLY people his age: so much friend potential! so much romance potential! relationships everywhere he looks, in a situation where usual social boundaries are waived because everyone is new and it’s okay to approach and talk to anyone! Not that he will realize that. Not that I realized that, when it was me. I wish I’d talked to a lot more people. I wish I’d made more friends. I wish I’d dated more people.

Hey, how about the books. It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything I’ve wanted to tell other people to read, and none of these books are the sort where I’d grab your upper arm too tightly while telling you to read it. But I liked them.

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Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory. This is about a family of people who have minor supernatural abilities: one can move a small item, for example, if he practices ahead of time; one can tell if people are lying. For the first large part of the book (a third? half?), I was kind of bored, and/or tense in a bad way (nervous about someone else’s money situation, for example). Then suddenly we switch to the point of view of someone else, and everything changes, and I was all in.


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The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson. Many, many times I was yanked out of the story by noticing the author’s writing. Still, I liked the story and was very interested in it, and I found myself thinking of it a lot, both during and afterward.


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The Secrets of My Life, by Caitlyn Jenner. I am very particular about autobiographies. They have to be the right mix of insider info, snark, name-dropping, self-awareness, humble self-mockery, and confiding chumminess. I like to come away feeling FONDER of the person who wrote it. I expect, and will tolerate, certain levels of narcissism, self-indulgence, and one-sided storytelling, as long as I get the balance in dirt and charm. I wasn’t familiar with Bruce Jenner before the Kardashians, and I was only the baseline level of aware of the Kardashians, but somewhere I saw a review of this book that made me want to read it, so I tried it—and I was glad I did. I liked it. I found it the right level of informative and charming, and I did indeed come away feeling fonder.

20 thoughts on “Post-College-Drop-Off Moody; Books

  1. Leeann

    Leading a parallel life with you, Swistle Dear, except that this is my second child that I took to college. It does not get easier on the whole, but it is slightly less panic inducing.

    I too did my first shopping since drop-off yesterday and felt the same shocks, particularly over the purchasing of milk (he was a huge milk drinker.) I do find that I was more conscious of the last-born at home now and getting things for him that he particularly likes. This is hard on him too and I can baby him a little bit, which makes ME feel better.

    I hear what the college is saying about not contacting Rob, but I also think you have to weigh how often you two are used to communicating. I text pretty much daily or every other day with my two older kids, so my aim is to not INCREASE that but also not to just stop because someone recommended it. You know? Keep the status quo, per se, and that will hopefully feel normal and reassuring to both my son and I.

    Is he in Orientation stuff right now? My son is and it seems their goal is to keep them busy right up to classes starting. Busy= less time to be lonely and/or use a funnel. ;)

  2. Tessie

    What an unbelievably helpful and reassuring post. 14/10 will bookmark to read again.

    Over and OVER in my (limited) parenting and (less limited) romantic experience, I find myself cranky that the emotions have to so often be SO OVER THE TOP and also SO WRONG AND UNHELPFUL. I mean, back to the days when we were discussing the ubiquitous and crazy-making newborn “knife thing” in this very space.

    Then again, what are the alternatives? NO emotions? Child who fails to launch? Ugg.

    Details on each and every care package will certainly help (me). Another topic I would read an entire blog on.

    1. Swistle Post author

      Thank you for bringing attention to this. In her book, Caitlyn Jenner says she personally prefers to be referred to as Bruce when referring to the times when she was living as Bruce. For example, she says it was Bruce Jenner who won a gold medal, not Caitlyn. My intention is to respect her own stated preferences.

  3. Gigi

    I understand your fears. Particularly about the student who died. In the first several weeks of Man-Child’s freshman year a student slipped, fell, hit his head and died. The news didn’t release his name as they wanted to inform the family. Meanwhile, I was texting mine like crazy and he wasn’t responding. I was in a panic. Eventually, he did respond (he’d been sleeping, of course).

    As much as we’d like, it isn’t wise to keep them home. It would soothe our nerves but would clip their wings.

    And no, he won’t be coming home to visit – he will be coming home. It only counts as coming to visit when he is truly out on his own in the world. At least, that’s the way I chose to look at it.

  4. Michelle

    It’s a big adjustment! My mom likes to remember how one mintute I was crying saying goodbye to them, and two hours later I was calling to ask if it was ok for me to go white water rafting with my new friends.

  5. Heather

    My tip — make a separate “special” list of things you will buy again when Rob is coming home. Believe it or not, you will find a new normal and what he likes/wants will start to slip your mind. Especially as he will encounter new foods and tastes while he is away — that “he’s coming home” shopping list will evolve as does he.

    Make a list somewhere (on your computer?) of the things you will buy just before he comes home. Update it with his new likes and preferences and keep the list. You’ll feel like you are preserving his preferences and you’ll have a handy resource before he returns.

  6. Suzanne

    I never once thought about how the shopping would change. Since my daughter is a few years out from college these posts are making me recall my own first days at college. And how tough they must have been on my parents. I was SO homesick and SO far away. Sigh. I love that you are channeling some of your Robsick feelings into care packages. I adored the care packages my mom sent – they were so fun and useful and full of love.

  7. Britni

    Would you happen to have any “Halloween” type (thriller? Horror?) books to recommend?
    I’m supposed to pick October’s book for my book club and they want something “theme-y” but I just have no idea.

    1. Swistle Post author

      Ooo, yes, I have one I think would be particularly good for a book club, because I definitely wanted to talk about it afterward with someone (instead I immediately started reading it through a second time): Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt. It’s creepy and odd.

      The Green Mile, by Stephen King—that’s probably my top favorite Stephen King book. Real-life horror plus some supernatural horror.

      The Girl With All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey. Apocalyptic/monster.

      Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. Apocalyptic.

      It’s a trilogy, by people could start with Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood for the book club, and then go on to read the others on their own if they were interested. Apocalyptic plus real-life-ish what-are-we-doing-to-ourselves horror.

      1. Britni

        Thank you so much!! I’m going to read through the summaries and pick one of these – I literally had no idea what to go with!

    2. Swistle Post author

      Commenter RA is one of the many commenters stopped from commenting by my STUPID comments system, so she has asked me to pass on some more recommendations. RA writes:

      • Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier: Classic! Super creepy but not scary

      • The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield: Gothic-esque novel, a tale of twins and a lost story

      • Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders: New release this year, very weird but beautiful, tells the story of one night in a cemetery (sort of) with all of the ghosts chiming in

  8. A.

    “And now this is “coming home TO VISIT” territory, rather than “coming home” territory.”

    This made me cry at my desk. What a sentence. Thanks for these posts, Swistle.

  9. Emily

    This is so wonderful to read. My oldest is a junior in HS and starting all the new things college related, from where to apply and how. Anticipating all of it. I also have 5. Can I just freeze time as it is right now? I love having him home right here in the house hanging out !

  10. Shawna

    I just discovered Joshilyn Jackson thanks to Julie from A Little Pregnant (who has unfortunately stopped blogging, but still posts tidbits to FaceBook), and have already read all the ebooks of hers that my library stocks on Overdrive. Will definitely look up some of your other recommendations! Thanks!

  11. Judith

    The point where you are in life is quite different from my own, yet I’m always enthralled when you write about what is going on. I love how introspective and honest (and entertaining!) you are about the things you choose to share here. Your description of Rob’s departure to college really made me appreciate what it must’ve felt like for my parents when I really left home for the first time. And that I probably should have let them know how things were going a little more frequently than I did.

    Regarding books, autobiographies especially: I can recommend Tim Gunn’s “Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work“. Not sure if you ever watched Project Runway, but he’s the teacher/mentor figure in the show, and he’s just wonderful. I usually can’t abide those kind of shows much, and also feel that all the regulars show maybe half of what their true personalities are. With him, I think he truly is that caring. He also was a teacher and educator for most of his life until getting roped into Project Runway, so it’s not an act he put on for that.

    I think his book pretty much is the mixture of honesty, gossip and life story and snark that you’ve described. There are parts where you can tell that he’s very much enjoying dropping something juicy about someone, and others where he is introspective and shares quite personal things, among them some very painful ones. While also being fun and entertaining, and if not necessarily humble (it comes through very clearly that he is proud of his accomplishments, as well he should) also not insufferably smug. I enjoyed it quite a bit and can recommend it, which isn’t the case that often for autobiographies where the “auto” is actually true and it hasn’t been the work of a ghostwriter who knows how to spin a tale. I like that man a great deal, I find.

  12. Tessie

    I stayed up until 3 AM finishing Caitlyn Jenner’s book! Agree with all of the things you said; I really enjoyed it even though I never had a particular interest in her or the Kardashians in the past. Recommend!

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