Apron string knots get the great unraveling


August 31, 2008|By JANET GILBERT

I don't recommend bursting into tears on a sidewalk bordering Washington Square in New York. But as far as public spaces go, it appears to be one where the emotionally overwrought can easily blend in.

At any given moment of the day or night, the park houses a number of people who seem to be living on the ragged edge. And last Sunday, for a brief moment, I was one of them.

This past weekend, my husband and I drove our second child to college. So you'd think we would know the drill and be prepared. Then we could have behaved more like the ideal family - such as the Barbie and Ken family moving their daughter, Kenbie, into college.

We'd go somewhat stiffly through the motions in fashionable outfits, sighing and saying plastic things like, "If you love something, let it go free." Then we'd drop her off, waving perfectly formed hands out the window of our plastic pink convertible, and head home to our big Barbie three-story dream house.

Sorry, this is just not how it went down in Janet's World.

On Saturday, we drove to downtown Manhattan. We put our loaded car in storage for 24 hours, and took a subway to the campus to look around. We stopped in our daughter's dorm and learned that we could move in any time, instead of our scheduled 7 a.m.-9 a.m. slot Sunday morning. So we took the subway back downtown and paid approximately 1.9 gazillion dollars to get our car out of the garage and drive it to her dorm.

On the way, we took a little sightseeing detour over the Brooklyn Bridge. Everywhere we drove, people gave us Marylanders a welcoming toot of the horn!

When we arrived at the dorm, we unloaded her gear on the sidewalk. I conveniently circled the neighborhood looking for a parking spot while my husband and daughter made repeated trips up to the dorm room to unload. Then we drove back downtown, where we paid the reduced price of 1.6 gazillion dollars to put our car back in the garage until the next day.

We had plenty of things to do on Sunday - get the ID card, go to the bookstore, attend the welcome picnic - and yet in the back of all of our minds loomed the impending drop-off. I don't think it matters if this is your first or final child moving out; most of us put off the actual goodbye until the last minute.

Instead, we focus on shopping and packing and getting everything ready to go. We make multiple lists of things to accomplish.

But the most important thing we really need to accomplish is the great unraveling of the apron strings we have so expertly knotted for the past 18 years. It's just not something that can be done in the five minutes before you drive away, in one long tearful goodbye hug on the corner of Washington Square and MacDougal Street. For me, it included a reprise later that day on the trip home.

At the Chesapeake House Travel Plaza on Interstate 95, I was getting some napkins and fixing the coffees I had just purchased for my husband and me. I suddenly thought about the last time I was in a rest stop without my children. I realized it was at least 20 years ago.

My husband emerged from the men's room to see me boo-hooing over at the coffee seasonings bar.

"Are you OK?" he said, almost as if it was normal to be crying at the Chesapeake House Travel Plaza.

"I just realized we were at a rest stop - alone," I said.

"Isn't it great?" he said enthusiastically.

This made me laugh, which only caused the Chesapeake House Travel Plaza patrons to stare more intently. I made it to the car, honking my nose into the beverage napkins.

The thing is, I have a wonderful life. That's why it hurts so much sometimes.

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