Herding Squirrels: The future has arrived

Traci Arbios

We were sitting on the couch; more to the point, I was sitting, he was in my arms, my newborn son. Little mittens on his hands, tiny hat on his head; he was warm and cuddly and I sat staring, absorbing every detail of his sweet, pink face.

His eyebrows were mere wisps. His lashes hadn’t yet grown in. His lips pursed, forming tiny bubbles and I gazed at him, dazed and in awe that after all that waiting _ nine whole months of interminable waiting _ my son had arrived. My whole life had led me to that moment and now that we were there, I could only imagine what came next. So I did what all new moms do in this situation: I tucked his warm little body onto my chest, breathed in his sweet baby smell and I cried as I imagined the future.

And now the future had arrived. The air is cold. The sky is overcast and we’re surrounded by dozens of parents and young adults. I look up and smile at my son as he towers over me, both of us nervous and ready. He needs to shave, I muse, as I reach up and touch my baby’s cheek, admiring his angular face and noting his long, long lashes. He smirks, and puts up with my clinginess.

We head to the registration line to pick up the key to his dorm room.

How is it that he can possibly be ready for this? Just last week we had his 5th-birthday party and he delighted in petting the giant python the Reptile Lady brought. Those giggles filled me with such joy. And then, a mere few days later, I watched him perform in one of his many high school plays. I remember I was dying inside, terrified and excited as there, before me, my once-painfully shy 8-year-old boy who could barely participate in circle time, was now a dignified young man standing in front of a large crowd reciting Shakespeare, of all things. And he was doing it very well.

Wait a minute. Weren’t we just snuggling on the couch, watching “The Lion King” for the 50th time in a row on our VCR? Wasn’t he just crawling into my bed, hoping mommy would chase away bad dreams? Didn’t I just teach him to ride a bike?

And now we’re lugging his suitcases and clothes and things up to a room he will share with strangers and begin living the rest of his life. My baby boy, my young man, my college freshman.

I smile when I meet his roommate’s parents and then I begin to help him unpack. We make his bed and he jokes that it will be the only time it’s ever made. We hang his shower curtain and he moves his movie collection out near the 15-inch TV. After the unpacking and the eating of lunch and the idle conversation, after reminding him to eat three meals a day and showing him where the laundry room is and warning to keep his dorm room locked and giving him the rundown of safety tips for city life, and after reminding him that he can call at any time of the day or night and that we aren’t that far away and if he ever needs anything or if he feels lonely to please just please call _ we hug a few more times, and I finally say goodbye.

The door closes and we walk down the hall, my husband and I, leaving my firstborn to his new life.

And I cry. Just like I did that first day, when I held him in my arms and thought of this moment and felt so sad for my future self.