By Jon Aldrich
We just pulled in the driveway from the long drive back on I-90 from Rapid City, SD, where we took our youngest son, Trey to start his freshman year of college at South Dakota Mines, a small engineering school in far western South Dakota. When I opened the door to the house it just seemed quieter than normal, even though I have come through this door hundreds of times over the years when no one was home, it just felt emptier than it ever has knowing that both of our sons were now away at college. A certain vibe was missing. Yes, our dog Ande was with us, so it will never really be all that quiet, but he doesn’t play video games or have friends over too often. The quiet almost compares to the emptiness in our house when we lost our dog, Oreo a couple of years ago.
We took our oldest son, Trent, to the University of Alabama two years ago to embark on his college years. It was an emotional time then, especially for my wife Tammy, as you are leaving your oldest child 12 hours away from home and that can be tough on a mother. But it did not hit me as hard as it did her. I knew he would be fine and would prosper down in Tuscaloosa. He was looking forward to going to a large school and not many days went by that he wasn’t with friends (usually at our house), but at other’s houses and many other gatherings also. Plus, we still had Trey at home for two more years, so we knew we were not coming back to an empty house.
No, this was different. A wave of emotion suddenly hit me and I welled up as I was hauling our luggage into the house from the trip. Tammy says it's probably because I won’t have both kids around to mow the lawn, take out the garbage, make food runs, help with dishes and haul Ande back and forth from Doggie Day Care.
She says now that Trey is at school, I can’t just yell his name and give him cash to do the chores she originally asked me to do. I guess I am probably guilty of all the above. Still, it runs much deeper than that. I just miss having the two boys around and the activity that accompanies them. Sure they make one heck of a mess most days, always have Netflix on way too loud and the grocery bill will probably drop by about $1,000 a month, but after 20 years of always having them around, you really understand what I have heard so many parents talk about when they reach this point in their lives of an empty nest. There were many times over the last few years, when I dreamt of how nice it will be when the kids are both off to school, but when it actually occurs, you long for the days when it wasn’t so quiet.
I reflect back on all the years of them growing up. From when we brought them home from the hospital, to getting out of diapers, to their first day of school, to playing youth sports and learning to drive (and all the angst that caused), and then making it through and graduating high school and all the great memories you have of all those events and watching them grow into young men. I miss the football games, and the Robotics tournaments. I even miss the arguments. I just feel so blessed to have been a part of it for all these years and always wonder, were we good parents? Did we raise them well? I think we did ok. As everyone says, it goes by so fast and how often do you really sit back and just enjoy those times as they are occurring? You probably don’t savor them as much as you should and maybe that is why it is hitting me so hard now.
When they are done with college will they live nearby? Probably unlikely as there will be so many opportunities for them in other areas of the country. Tammy and I have to start getting used to the fact that we will be needing to travel to see them now and probably in the future. This is sort of our “weaning out” phase as they will still be back for several months in the summers and from Thanksgiving to mid-January, but in a few years that will not be the case.
So, even though it is a 13 hour drive, we are going to enjoy visiting Trey out there in South Dakota as there is so much to do, with the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore nearby, the Badlands, Needles Highway, and Devil’s Tower not far away as well as a number of other attractions. We also really enjoy driving the 12 hours down to Alabama (except for the Nashville traffic) to take in the amazing atmosphere of college football in the South and some good Bar-B-Q. Although we probably will not be able to take in a football game this year due to COVID.
And that is another thing, COVID has really made this difficult on college students. It is really hard to keep 18-22 year old kids “contained” at what should be some of the best years of their life away at college. They are not attending class in person, can’t really go to parties and will not be able to attend events such as football games and a lot of the fun social events at college. Both of them are currently recovering from getting COVID within a week or so of getting to campus. They are both doing well now and on the mend.
So, for now, Ande will have to be our “kid” at home. The only thing missing is that Ande can’t mow the lawn, take out trash or make food runs. I am going to have to learn to adjust to this new reality until winter break and the boys are back home.