Jessie Raymond: Dorm drop-off comes full circle

I’ll never forget what I said to my parents in 1986, on the day they dropped me off at college: “Bye!”
To be fair, I was at college — kind of a big deal — and they were just older people who, as far as I could tell, didn’t have much going on in their lives. I’m sure they were envious that I was finally free from our boring little Podunk town, and they were probably devastated that from then on it would be just the two of them.
I watched them from my dorm room window as they returned to the car. Oddly, it looked like they were skipping. Funny how people deal with grief.
That day was on my mind because this past weekend my husband and I brought our youngest child to college. What a strange feeling, experiencing it from the other side.
Her dorm room looked much like mine had way back when. But, as I told her, things have changed.
When I started college, for instance, we had a single pay phone on each hall. (For you youngsters out there, a “pay phone” is a public phone that works only after you feed change into a slot. “Change” is random coins that people used to use as currency before debit cards were invented.)
The phone on my freshman hall was, unfortunately, just outside my room. Wendy, a girl from New Jersey who lived down the hall, was trying to break up with her boyfriend back home by ignoring him (for you over-30s out there, this is now called “ghosting”).
He would call her over and over in the middle of the night, leaving my roommate or me to stagger out of bed and either answer the phone repeatedly or leave it off the hook to keep him from calling back.
My sophomore year, the school installed individual phones in each dorm room. They came with a mind-blowing feature known as “voicemail” — your own personal answering machine built right into the phone.
Colleges today, on the other hand, don’t even have landlines, because students have cell phones. (But kids, did you know voicemail is still a thing? Check your messages once in a while; your mom worries.)
Then there’s college food. I teased our daughter about the sad state of institutional dining. Turns out, her school serves a full range of fresh, locally grown foods raised by spiritually grounded farmers on stress-free farms. Not a tater tot in sight.
As she unpacked her duffel bag, I warned her about the laundry room. In my day, if you let your clean laundry sit in the washer, someone who needed the washer would throw your clothes more or less on a nearby table but also on the lint-covered floor. And if you left your dry laundry in the dryer too long, someone would steal it.
She just smiled. Now — really — there’s an app that alerts you when your laundry is almost done.
And course registration. What a drag! You used to line up in a packed gym in front of card tables to sign up for your classes. With gritted teeth, you’d wait 20 minutes to get into Principles of Modern Thought 101, while you could see that Evolution of Philosophical Applications, across the gym, would be full before you could muscle your way over there.
Now you register online, your choices limited only by how fast you can click.
While I marveled aloud at how easy college kids have it these days — “Cable? Right in your room? Wow!” — our daughter gently guided us to the door.
I had always known she wouldn’t be the homesick, clingy type. Thirteen years earlier, we had driven up to Mary Hogan Elementary School for her first day of kindergarten, and she had asked us to let her off at the curb instead of walking her inside (request denied). She was ready.
Gently pushing us into the hall, she gave us a big hug and a cheerful “Bye!” and closed the door.
That was it? Eighteen years of togetherness was over, just like that?
There she was, starting a new and exciting life, away from home, on her own. But where did that leave us? We’d go back to our boring little Podunk town. From now on, it would be just the two of us.
We took a quiet moment to work through the poignant emotions brought on by this striking change in our lives.
And then we skipped most of the way back to the car.

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