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Mail Bonding

A short, weird conversation about sending my kid off to college

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I was talking to my mail carrier yesterday.

"So, how'd it go getting your kid off to her college last weekend?" she asked, handing over a short stack of bills, letters and magazines. "And hey, how'd opening weekend go?"

My mail lady knows everything.

She knows my oldest daughter has just started attending Sonoma State University as a theater major because she's been delivering and picking up correspondence from and to SSU for months now, after a year and a half of schlepping financial aid submissions and various college applications. My mail carrier knows that my other daughter is being heavily recruited by an all-girls school because every week or so she brings us another fancy packet from Mills College in Oakland.

She knows I'm playing Judas in Santa Rosa Player's production of Godspell and that I won't be wearing my glasses to do it because she delivered a big supply of mail-order contact lenses just days ago.

And then, of course, we talk a lot, as I stand waiting for her to finish stuffing the big multiple-family mailboxes of our condo complex. It's kind of strange--my mail carrier knows more about me and my family than even my therapist knows; she probably even knows I see a therapist.

Of course, now everyone else does, too.

We spend a few minutes talking about logistics: last-minute trips to the junior college to grab my daughter's transcripts and zap them over to SSU; last-minute trips to the bank to set up a checking account; last-minute trips to the store to get important dormitory-related items, like milk, cornflakes, toilet paper and ethernet cables.

"But ultimately," I said, "we got her all installed into her dormitory. It's a nice apartment, and her roommates seem really friendly, but . . ."

"What?" she asked. "Hard to let your firstborn go?"

"Harder than I thought it would be," I answered. "I'm exhausted from the emotional effort of moving her out of the house."

"Yeah, well, that and you're singing and dancing and playing Judas in a play that just opened on the same weekend your kid moves out," she tossed back. "I'm exhausted just thinking about it. But I guess you can use all that emotion and stuff in your performance, huh?"

Interesting idea.

I imagine trying to think of my daughter--all alone in a new place, surrounded by strangers--when our next Godspell performance happens this weekend. Just as we start the big finale, as I'm producing the blood-red scarves with which I tie our Jesus (Mark Bradbury, nice guy) to the black-lit chainlink fence, all of us gearing up for the grand emotional singing death scene, already jam-pulsing with emotion, sharply felt loss and very loud rock music, I can think of my kid.

I can imagine how I felt watching her walk away in the rearview mirror as I drove away, leaving her to the whims of fate and chance. I could fixate on the stories other parents have told me about college life: constant offers of pot and drugs I've never even heard of; cruel-hearted upperclassmen on the prowl; campus-wide distributions of condoms engineered by safe-sex clubs. I could wonder about the fact that all of SSU's dormitories--Cabernet, Muscat, Merlot--are named after alcoholic beverages.

Hmmm. Faux crucifixion on a chainlink fence is starting to seem like a pretty apt metaphor for sending a kid to college. Maybe I could use this in my performance.

"Good idea," I tell the mail lady.

"The thing is," she says, "we can't live their lives for them, you know? We can raise 'em to make good decisions, and we can set the rules when they live in our houses, but then you gotta let 'em go and trust 'em to find their own way."

"Easier said then done," I laugh. "But then, yours will be graduating this year. So next year you're going to be facing the same thing."

"I'm not worried," she says. "My kids know that if I'm working hard, putting off early retirement to save enough for their college, then they'd better keep their act together when they go. But they're good kids. So are yours."

"I know. Doesn't make me any less concerned about her," I reply, adding, "but I guess I'm lucky she's close to home. She could have gone to college in Oregon. Or New York."

"Exactly," my mail lady says, slamming the mailbox lid and locking it up tight.

"Just think of that the next time you're crucifying that guy."

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From the September 1-7, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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