FLINT - We're dropping our 5-year-old son off at college tomorrow.
That's what it feels like, anyway. Because there's no possible way that Sam - our little Sam, my little Sam - is 18-years-old and ready for college. I mean, how can he go to college when he doesn't have all his grown-up teeth yet and still likes the Power Rangers? There must be some mistake. Who's going to tuck him in at night? Who's going to give him piggyback rides? Who's going to wrestle with him and teach him how to field ground balls correctly? (Glove to the ground, adjust up for bad hops.)
This can't be. And yet it is.
I know that some parents say sending a son or daughter off to college is a moment of celebration. "We're free, we're free!"
But I think they're liars.
You can't possibly love, sweat over and endure a kid for 18 years then go cold turkey on him overnight and not feel like someone stole your left leg.
Or at least I can't. I've been dreading the moment we leave him on the steps of Larzelere Hall at Central Michigan University since the day he first stepped on a yellow school bus 13 years ago.
Back then I wrote: "The moment that bus wheezes to a stop, opens its door and swallows him up, that's really the start of his future. From here on in the years will be a blur: kindergarten, middle school, high school, college, job, marriage, kids of his own. This is it: the jumping off point."
And it is. And I'm not ready for it. I never was, quite obviously.
I hate, hate, hate the idea that Sam will probably never again live under the same roof as me for longer than a few months at a time. From here on out, he'll be a visitor. A visitor! Can you imagine? I wiped this kid's tears, mopped his fevered brow, blew his nose. (And yes, I just grossed myself out, much less you, but that's parenthood.)
And now he's going to be a mere guest? I don't want that. I want my live-in Sam. I want my constant companion. I want the kid who would never miss a trip to the hardware store. Without him, who's going to pour the grass seed from the big plastic barrel into the little paper bag for me?
I want the kid who was wild for dinosaurs and made me play "guys" - his name for action figures - with him for hours. I want the kid who swatted the rump of the society lady who stepped between him and the ice cream choices at the Baskin & Robbins when he was three. (Yes, we were horrified and apologized up and down. We also thought it was hysterical. And that, frankly, she deserved it.)
I want the kid who - even to this day - plays catch with me in the yard and cribbage with me on the deck on sultry summer afternoons. I want his smile, his laughter and his energy. In short, I want life as it's been for the past 18 years.
The psychologists call what we have "empty nest syndrome." Sam just calls it freedom. He couldn't be happier to be heading to college, and frankly he doesn't quite understand why his parents are being such slobbering babies about it all.
I don't expect him to get it, though. Kids see life as a snapshot. Parents see it as a movie. He sees only the moment before him. We see all of the moments that led to it. He sees the beginning of his future. We see the end of his childhood. He's thrilled to be moving on from the first 18 years of his life.
We just want to do them all over again.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.