by Melanie Heuiser Hill
We’re at the one-month mark before #1 Son leaves for his first year of college. This is big for our family. (I realize it’s a big thing for every family, but it’s feeling particularly personal for us right now — indulge me.) It’s entirely right, he’s absolutely ready, and he’s going to a place that’s a good fit for him. But my heart squeezes to think of it. (I’m trying positive visualization for the good-bye.)
This week, he’s cleaning his room — a parental mandate. His room will remain his room when he goes, but long overdue is this cleaning out of the science projects from elementary school, the soccer medals from the same era, the dusty certificates and papers and binders, the mess and detritus of a boy’s life well lived and now outgrown. He’s doing the closet today — he won’t finish. It’s like an archaeological dig with its layers. He says he’s saving his bookshelf for last. “It’s not so bad,” he says.
Last week, I sat on his bed and looked at that bookshelf. It’s one of the first my husband built. Floor to ceiling, nearly as wide as the boy’s wingspan. Or his wingspan a few years ago, anyway. It’s stuffed and it exhibits a peculiar combination of cluttered and organized storage. It’s obvious he once alphabetized his fiction by author. This astounds me — among all of his awards, there is nary a one commending his organizational skills. But he likes to find the book he’s looking for quickly, and so at some point he gave it a go, I guess.
Many of the picture books have moved on. A few favorites remain: Caps for Sale, an anthology of Thomas The Tank Engine stories, Clever Ali, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Quiltmaker’s Gift, Frog and Toad, several books about inventors, scientists, and explorers, Winnie-the-Pooh…
And then there are the glorious chapter books that consumed weeks and months and years of his life. Some we read together, but many he devoured on his own. The well-worn Harry Potter books in English and Spanish both, all of the Swallows and Amazons series, most anything Gary Schmidt has written…. There’s a section or two of math books — cool math, not textbook math — and there’s everything from stories of dragons and wizards to the biography of Mark Twain.
The boy has always read widely. History is mixed in with science, which is mixed in with his banned books collection and various works of Shakespeare. Contemporary novelists sit piled under ancient classics. He has the entire collection of Calvin and Hobbes sitting next to The Atlas of Indian Nations, and various graphic novels are shelved in the midst of an extensive collection of Peter Pan prequels and sequels. I see both books he was required to read and books he could not put down.
I’m almost as proud of this bookshelf as I am the boy — it steadies me to look at it. With just a few weeks left until he heads out, I catch myself with panicked thoughts: Will he wash his sheets? Does he know the details of our family medical history? Is the salad bar in the dining service nice enough to tempt him to eat his vegetables? Does he know the signs of a concussion? Frostbite? Will he call home before he makes Big Life Decisions? WILL HE READ?
That last one pops up a lot for this English major Mama. He wants to be an engineer. That curriculum does not feature much in the way of literature courses; though I’m impressed they have an all-campus-read that plays a significant part in orientation. Will our boy read for fun, or be so consumed with engineering and math that he won’t have time for stories? If he decides to have a beer, will he pick up a new novel or an old favorite to enjoy with it? (A mom can dream.) Will he find a banned book to read in September during Banned Books Week, like we’ve always done? Will he lose himself in the stacks of that fancy campus library and maybe carry a pile of books back to his dorm room? If he stays up much too late, will it be—please let it be—because he’s fallen into a story and can’t get out?
And then he shuffles into my office, laughing at another artifact he’s uncovered in the deep dark recesses of his closet. We agree it can be “passed on.”
“Hey Mom?” he says. “What do you do with your books when you go to college?”
I tell him there’s not much room in the typical dorm room to house books outside of those you need for your studies.
“Maybe I can just take a few favorites?” he says.
I ask which few those would be.
“I’ll have to think about it,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of favorites.”
Oh, I’m going to miss that boy.