The carpet in the lobby may be stained, and I may have had to wait twenty minutes for the truck to actually arrive, but the rental price was right. The Budget truck started well and drove smoothly, but with nothing in its cargo bed, any minor perturbation on the payment made the cargo hold rattle and my teeth grate. Happily, once the 10-foot truck was loaded with cargo, and with our GPS moving me southward toward Richmond, the rattling ceased.
If only I could say the same for the signals coming from my bladder. Loading the truck largely by myself was hot and sweaty work. I kept drinking glasses of water to quench my thirst, but on the two plus hour trip to Richmond, it all decided to come out, requiring frequent pit stops. While my wife and daughter sailed ahead in our daughter’s Honda, I ended up spending time at places like a Virginia Welcome Center on I-95 instead. At least I got to park in the truck lane for a change.
The truck’s cigarette lighter apparently wasn’t working, so the GPS was running on its battery. As I approached Richmond, it warned me of its low battery. I turned it off and followed signs. Once fully downtown I turned it back on and hoped it had enough juice to get me to the townhouse on West Marshall Street where my college bound daughter was to take up residence. I made it just barely. My wife accidentally left her cell phone at home, and I hadn’t written the address down elsewhere. Whew!
My wife and daughter were waving at me from down the street; I went too far and had to double back. Richmond doesn’t believe in many two way streets, so there was some jockeying and red lights to deal with before I parked the truck in front of my daughter’s new abode. Two young men, her new roommates, were ready to greet me and to help haul her stuff inside.
I was nervous about my daughter rooming with guys, but I shouldn’t have been. Mark prefers to spend most of his time in his room with the door shut. Occasionally you can hear his dog yapping and scampering through the floorboards. David was genuinely glad to see Rosie. They got along when first introduced the month before, and I knew he was safe because he was the son of a friend of my wife’s from work. Both seemed impossibly young (did I look so young when I was 21?), but David was a bit on the scruffy side. Both were quiet types, which meant this parent didn’t have to worry about loud boozy parties and drugs from the residents of this house.
Boxes were unloaded, torn open and in many cases their innards were assembled into things resembling furniture: a sort of a desk, steel shelving that would also act as something of a room divider (since my daughter got part of a large living room for her “bedroom”), and something to go behind the loo to hold toiletries. There was also a bed frame to assemble, a foundation encased in plastic and large plastic containers full of the accoutrements of living. Walling off the living room violated the rental agreement, but we were allowed to put a pole across the width of the room, some eleven feet, to provide some semblance of privacy for our daughter. This required some innovative amateur engineering. The steel shelves provided some privacy and storage space. Two long PVC pipes held together with a pipe connector had to be carefully cut, lowered into place and held level with a rope connected to a ceiling hook. Black sheets stitched together with a needles and thread went over these low-tech curtain rods, providing a virtual wall. Eventually the boxes were disposed of, the floor was vacuumed and our nearly twenty one year old daughter tried to settle into her first new bedroom in more than seventeen years.
A few blocks away is her real destination: Virginia Commonwealth University. Her townhouse and neighborhood turned out to be in better shape than I anticipated, given my exposure to too much substandard campus housing. The kitchen looked nearly new. The neighborhood was full of townhouses, most of which were rented by fellow students. However, turn the corner and there is a rougher looking commercial neighborhood. Turn onto Broad Street and you find more than a few scruffy homeless types smiling nicely while begging for spare change.
The sun was steadily sinking when we finished. Before leaving, we made time for a last supper of sorts. Bringing David along, we found a local pizza joint. It had Formica-topped tables and a counter where food was ordered. We ate greasy pizzas and chatted. Over dinner, our daughter’s parents (me being one of them) expressed our nervous worries in a seemingly endless series of nags and reminders, while David smiled and remarked how familiar it all seemed to him.
With dinner beginning to digest, we were back at her new townhouse and giving her hugs goodbye. We took deep breaths and started the engine of our rental truck. As we left, we watched her through the front window of the townhouse. David was already chatting with her, easing her nervousness. David, we could tell, was a good young man. He would find a way to take her gently under his wing, but as a peer, not an authority figure. David, we could see, was her bridge into the next phase of her life.
It was hard not to reflect and fret a little as we drove back north on I-95 to Northern Virginia. Speaking of fretting, our cat Arthur was not happy to be left alone all day. He stared at the door waiting for Rosie to come in. We let him sit on our lap and talked to him, but he seemed to know that his well-ordered world had been disturbed too. To bring some predictability to his life, he went back and sat on his special spot on the living room carpet. Wearily I returned the rental truck to a dark rental lot, putting nearly $50 in gas in it and dropping the keys in its after hours box.
Before bed, a shower was required, no matter how tired I was. I was returning to something that used to be normal: a house where the lights went off when we went to bed and where our daughter naturally fell asleep when we tucked her in. It felt momentarily weird, then gratefully normal.
Each day since we moved her in on Monday, we have fretted a bit about her. We have checked up on her on occasion with an email, but we are also feeling more settled ourselves in our new empty nest. For the truth about childrearing is that if you love them, at some point you have to send them packing. We did, with a lot of love, some stifled tears and great gobs of money.
The house is definitely quieter, and we will treasure those weekend and semester breaks when our daughter deigns to visit us. Nevertheless, we will also be appreciative to have our own couple space again. For the truth is that no matter how much you love your children, you don’t own them. At best, you only rent them. The rent is very high, and the work to raise them is often hectic and at times overwhelming. You know you won’t have turned out a perfect young adult, but perhaps on reflection you can say you did pretty well. You realize, it’s okay to have this loved, cherished and sometimes annoying person spend a couple decades with you and then let them go. It may feel more traumatic than natural, but it is natural.
The parenting role is never entirely over, but a transition is underway which is ultimately good for both parent and offspring. It is as it should be. The new silence in our house is a bit peculiar, but it feels sort of welcoming and well deserved.
I plan to sleep in very late on Saturday.