To college

Twenty-nine minutes. That’s how long it took this morning totake him from our home to the dorm where he now lives. Twenty-nine minutes isn’t very long. People keep telling me that. But it isn’t home, either. We went in two cars—Christian, Karoline, and I took the van and Michael went with my husband in the other car. Christian doesn’t talk much and that was fine with both of us. I was alone with my thoughts. In 29 minutes, I had time to think of all the times we’d driven the same drive.


There were the times, before I was married, that I drove there alone and then walked in the park-like setting and talked about wedding plans with my groom-to-be. There was the day of Michael’s baptism. There were all the many, many Sundays at Mass in the Lecture Hall. There were countless basketball games and visits to Daddy at the field house on campus where he worked. There was the time Michael kicked the soccer ball down the hall of the Athletic Department offices and Gordon Bradley, the men’s coach at the time, peeked his head out of the office and said, “Sign him up, right now.” They turned out to be prophetic words.


As we turned onto Roberts Road , I remembered the time we gathered here and Michael—who was only five—turned over a shovelful of dirt at the chapel groundbreaking. A little over a year later, he was the first person to celebrate a first holy communion in the chapel. He was so surprised and honored to find that all the students of the campus ministry had ordered a cake and planned a party for him afterwards. Twenty-nine minutes and in many ways, it was like driving home. There are so many, many memories on that campus. But it isn’t home. Home is a warm, light-filled house with boys and girls who all look strikingly alike. Michael is now living away from home.


I had  imagined a lot of things about this day. One thing I did not imagine was how I would feel when we walked into the dorm. Because Michael was arriving early for pre-season soccer training, the campus was quiet. No one else was in his dorm when we moved his belongings into his room. The room was small and barren. Cinderblock walls and a concrete floor housed Spartan furniture. It looked a bit like a prison cell to me. It smelled like athletic shoes. I held my baby tightly. The mother in me wondered briefly if there was lead in the peeling paint. The mother in me was struggling with this environment. For nearly nineteen years, I’ve put my heart and soul into creating the most nurturing environment possible. And now, I was going to leave my child in this cold, concrete cave. The warm, light-filled rooms of home seemed more than 29 minutes away.


Michael didn’t seem to mind at all. And Christian peeled the baby from me and delighted in putting her in the empty refrigerator box. We took pictures of it all and the scene played out before me. But I don’t think I was really there. I was in a hospital room with a tiny blue-eyed bundle. I was on a soccer field with little boy we called the “Blond Bomber.” I was in a light-filled kitchen on a snow day, making cookies and admonishing him to keep his fingers out of the dough. I was anywhere but here.


We can’t stop time. And really, do I want to? To try to stop time is to sin against hope. I’ve loved having Michael with me as he grew. I have to remember that the time before us will be blessed as well. For every wonderful memory I have of this place, Michael will have more. He is going grow here and it is all very good.


Mercifully, none of the men with me today—Mike, Michael, or Christian—commented on the tears that rolled down my cheeks as I pulled out of the parking lot. I turned right and directly in front of me, at the end of the road, stood the chapel. This was the chapel we helped to build, the chapel we knew so long ago would bless countless young men and women.  This was the place where Michael used to look around at the college students and dream of the day he would be a big boy. He dreamt of today.


I wanted to go in so badly. That was my church, the place where I had turned so many times for comfort and for joy. The big sign in front turned me away. The chapel is closed during August. The church is for the students and most of the students are not yet there. Never did I understand so well the phrase “MotherChurch.” Oh please, I prayed, please throw open your doors soon and hold my child. Please mother him well. Please welcome him into the warm, light-filled rooms behind those closed doors. You are right here. I am 29 minutes away.