Joco Opinion

Denise Snodell: Parenting journey continues where the sidewalk ends

My sons announced they will be moving out of their respective college dorms for next semester. They have both signed leases. A million things are going through my head right now, so I’ll try to share the highlights here.

First of all, why did I spend so much energy the past few summers agitating over the not-found-in-real-life “Twin XL” dorm sheets? I approached that task like it was part of a five-year plan. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t. As I agitated in this column space, I admitted I was merely distracting myself with all things thread counts because my sons were leaving home.

I came to accept my guys would be living in dorms, because dorms are just extended Boy Scout camps or temporary boarding schools. At least that’s what I told myself. Bunk beds. Cafeterias. Grown-ups milling around somewhere in the vicinity. No biggie. My guys would be coming home every long summer break, between semesters and maybe some extended weekends.

As a parent, you gasp when your child hits any new milestone. Intellectually, you know it’s going to happen, but emotionally many of us trick ourselves into believing each phase is going to last forever. Toddlerhood. Preschool. Even the high school years. “This will be a century-long experience for all of us,” you pretend. “Life will be a sparkling lazy river winding through an eternal summer!”

When my sons were tiny, I remember feeling like I would be buying cute Baby Gap onesies forever. I had favorite little togs for my guys. Sweet robot patterns. Light blue plaids. Innocent teddy bear prints I’d snap up to their chubby little necks.

Life snapped back. Now they’re both over 6 feet tall, shaving daily and signing apartment leases.

Which brings me to my new “screen life.” I not only watch college basketball games on ESPN to glimpse my sons in the student sections, but thanks to Skype, I am a real life Jane Jetson. (With a twitchy eye.) Skype has become the virtual staircase I yell up with questions.

Bloop. Bloop. “You there? Have you had enough to eat? Did you fold your laundry? Don’t stay up too late, OK?”

The downside of this modern form of communication is you can glimpse your own reaction to “live breaking news” in the little corner selfie box on your computer screen. Your kid discusses the next move in his life — the apartment. And there you are in the thumbnail video with wide eyes, a frozen smile, and a hint of a gulping throat. Quick, cover your neck with your hand. Smile more.

A 12-month lease. Twelve. I did some research, and get this — that matches the exact amount of months in an entire year.

I can see what’s coming. My guys may have shorter summer visits, or they may not come home much at all. The high thread counts I so lovingly purchased are unraveling. They are stretching, fraying. Ping. Ping. Ping.

So I have recalibrated. I’m in a new distraction mode that has nothing to do with thread counts and everything to do with pixel counts. One night, before my sons signed their leases, I was hunkered down over the computer. The open tabs along the top of my screen revealed my state of mind. There were satellite views of possible neighborhoods. Crime statistics of various ZIP codes. A MapQuest search. Bus routes. Google Earth.

I took virtual walks on “street view” from their potential new addresses to their campuses. I wanted to make sure the point A’s to the point B’s were safe. I was mumbling things like, “This six-lane intersection won’t do. That strip mall appears sketchy. Uh oh. Look here — no sidewalks.”

Just then, it hit me. I was brought back to the Shel Silverstein poetry book I used to read to my sons not so long ago. Once again, my children have led me to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Freelance writer Denise Snodell writes on alternate weeks.