The Hand-Off Is Complete

So perhaps I bored some of you to tears at the end of last month when I gave you my impressions of the inevitable emotion due to the parent/child severance that occurs during college freshman drop-off. I was amazed to find how many of you were experiencing the exact same set of emotions. It ran right down gender lines, too. Dads were emotional, but understood the process. Moms were also clear on the need, but simply felt it came too early and the kid was not fully prepared. Either way, I got a ton of mail about the article and it helped me step back and rethink my analysis.

As the days followed, I was prone to refocus and began to assess. I determined that part of the difference must have to do with the physical act of the child actually growing inside of the mother and how she truly has to physically release a part of her from the moment of birth. It must be hard enough to send that once-so-guarded part of you to the kindergarten bus let alone to a place that’s hours away where mom has no supervision, no oversight, no reassurances that the kid is eating right, sleeping well and most of all--feeling emotionally confidant.

But we decided there is nothing served by reminding the kid of all that, so we set our minds to shoulder the emotion between us and simply give him a positive message from home that we were just fine; missed him, but were just fine. I try to avoid being the hovering email parent and I asked her to do the same.

We limit the emails and texts and on days when we do send a few too many inquiries, we vow

that we will not reach out at all the next day. I am pretty proud of us. We are getting used to things at home and sinking our teeth into a couple distracting home-improvement projects.  Think I’m kidding? Here’s the new sink/vanity in the bathroom and the new tile and cabinets in the kitchen:

Now come on guys--I gotta get some huge “good husband” points for this, right? Well--no matter these changes were long overdue and indeed it was all very distracting. 

And then one night when we were feeling confident about our newfound strength, we made a call to him. We were talking very adult-like and then we mentioned that we saw his rugby team had a game coming up next weekend. My wife said we may take a ride out Saturday morning to see the game.

Silence came from the other side of the phone 120 miles away. “Do you really miss me that much?” he asked. A knife went through my heart. My wife, who was always much more blunt than me, said, “Yes!”

He laughed and saved the moment by saying, “I’d love you to come up for the game. That would be great.” I took myself off life support and sucked in a deep breath. “Okay buddy, we’ll see you this weekend. Mom and I have to go.”

As the days passed, I had to admit I was really beginning to look forward to seeing him. I wanted to see how he’d fixed his room, where he ate, who his buddies were on the floor and on the team. Exactly what had my boy set up for himself absent the parents who had guided him for the last 18 years? We were soon to see.

Come Saturday it was pouring rain in Cleveland and we more than once debated even going but I thought we should still try because I recall speaking to friends in that part of Ohio over the years and the weather was usually very different near the Toledo area. We weren’t a half hour out of Cleveland when abundant blue skies appeared and in all it was a beautiful ride through Ohio farm lands with rolling acres of corn and beans and hefty dairy cows spotting the land. In less than 2 hours, we arrived in town and stopped at local eatery to freshen up and grab a coffee.

And now we set out for the rugby field which is on the far end of campus. We parked nearby, got out of the car and began to walk to the field bleachers which are right on the same level as the field; maybe 5 rows high. A rugby game is similar to a soccer game at the small college level. There are many blankets, lawn chairs, miscellaneous grounds crews, refs, players all strewn about until the action starts. It lacks the formality of a football game or basketball game.  There is no national anthem or introduction of players. At some point close to the official starting time, everyone assembles on the field and it simply begins. But rugby action is unlike any of those other sports mentioned. This is a game of vikings and warriors. There will be blood and there will be bruises. This is accepted. This is expected. There is that edge.

And then she spotted him. He was warming up with like 15 other guys on one corner of the field. Collecting herself with all the style and poise of Three Stooges trying to get out of a haunted house she broke through the group and put the boy into an enormous bear hug as the others observed and laughed out loud. Sam, who is more than a foot taller than she, looked down with his arms up like he’d been lassoed by some alien force and smiled. He said, “Oh, hi mom.” She was gritting her teeth so hard I was afraid they might crack.

I said to the man next to me, “Someone should get that woman off the field. Do you know who she is?” He just smiled at me and shook his head. So I got a crow bar out of the car and peeled her off the boy and we went to the stands and sat. He played very hard and very well and exhibited the most poise and leadership style I’d ever seen him display. He was every bit a polished college athlete and his behavior was not only admirable it was enviable. If ever the saying that “a rising tide lifts all ships,” it was being seen here. I provide the following picture as evidence, your honor. Shoulders back, head up, eyes forward; this kid grew up so much in a month I was blown away. He was the picture of confidence.

And suddenly I knew it really was here. The hand-off was complete. This boy was now a man. 

And he would return home in the summers ahead maybe but that too would come to an end in the near future unless he wanted to live near home. Because see it was now clearly up to him.  Oh sure he’ll still be our son. He’ll need things including money, advice, support, moral reminders but by and large if I dropped off the planet tomorrow this guy could pass for “fully baked.” And I knew she saw it too. The trips to the zoo on the weekends, the cartoons before school, watermelons on the picnic table devoured with nothing more than 2 forks; those days are now but a memory; albeit wonderful memories but memories just the same. This is Chapter 2.

When the game ended, he introduced us to his new friends and teammates. He gave us a quick non-committal introduction to a young lady who seemed a little new to the gang and I am guessing we’ll be hearing more about her later; when he’s ready to talk about it I suppose.

After he showered, we had a nice dinner together and we dropped him off at his dorm where he discussed his upcoming week and gave us a list of who to say hello to when we got home.  He leaned in and gave mom a long hug. And from that same side of the car he looked in on me and smiled broadly. “We’re awfully proud of you, kiddo,” I said.

That seemed to be the thing he was hoping or waiting to hear. It somehow validated that all he thought he had accomplished in the last month had indeed been real. He backed away from the door and slapped the car twice decisively.

“All right!” he said. “Be careful driving back. Text me when you get home.” He sounded just like us.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at