When I think about my son leaving for college, I imagine setting up a stage in front of his brick (apparently, he’s going ivy league) dorm hall—three mics for well-dressed back-up singers, some guy with sunglasses on synthesizers, a not-too-mean-looking drummer and me on the front mic. Everybody else—all those other college students and their parents—will be walking back and forth lugging boxes and ugly futon sofas and those Pier 1 chairs that take up too much room.
And I will be singing a KC & the Sunshine Band song: “Please Don’t Go”
It would be the very best-ever way to celebrate a passing and commemorate my own sadness without being grotesquely morose. I could wear a tight-fitting dress and a big wig and sing it all like I mean it even more than I do. I could jive my neck and belt out “Babe, I love you so—I want you to know. . . that I’m going to miss your love the minute you walk out that door: so please don’t go . . don’t go—don’t go away . . . Hey hey hey.”
If my son doesn’t go for this option—his standing in the grass with his foot up on a box, shaking his head a little and rolling his eyes maybe—but not in a disgusted sort of way, more in a “she’s always like that, but I love her” sort of way. If he doesn’t let his head bob a little while I’m singing and doing Diana Ross and the Supremes hand motions. If he doesn’t sway a little with his little brother (who will be thinking at that moment about which song Ill choose when he leaves for college the next year) If he doesn’t grab his little sister—an 11-yr-old by then—and high five her or throw her on his back or sing into his thumb with her.
If he sees me and pretends to be taking boxes out of some other family’s car. If he does then what he does now when I fall into emotion-balancing goofiness: stamps his foot, yells “Maaaaawm” with that growl that comes with the middle vowel sound. If his father shoots me that little look he does now—knowing, smirky, kind—when I miss the mark in an emotional moment.
If the band stops playing and we don’t get much past that tricky little hi-hat intro, never get to the psychedelic background work, never utter a head-swirling ”hey, hey, hey”
And nobody ever joins in with us—there are not other mothers working out moves together on the grass by the second verse, no fathers looking on and laughing or air-synthesizering. If I never get to the talking part at the end—the unsung pleading with the fade-out . . .
Well then, I’ll be sad. And only sad.
There will be no moment to offer up my sadness as a gift—as a celebration of having something worth being sad about: that we will have all loved being a family together for the years that we were all here on the planet at the same time—especially those ten where everybody was born and we were five working out life together in one house.
And I’ll carry that unsung sadness with me. And I wonder who I’ll be if it stays inside of me.
I hope he lets me sing.