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Jonathan's Transition to College


by Nancy Fried (December 2000)


I looked at the eighteen assorted pieces of luggage, small duffel bags, cartons of books, and computer components and shuddered. My 21-year old son had decided to transfer from a city school to an out-of-town college; He wanted to try to live on his own. His therapist had been schooling him to travel this path and finally Jonathan felt ready. Jonathan has Tourette Syndrome.


This particular morning I would be driving him to the University of Plattsburgh in upstate New York, a 6-hour, 300-mile journey. I had rented a huge car for the trip. When we were settled in our seats, Jonathan said, "Feels like we packed a half a dinosaur!" The reference to his childhood passion made me turn and look at him in profile; at 21 years old, with a new short haircut, goatee and beard, and at 170 lbs and 5 feet 7 inches tall, he seemed miles away from the little boy I once brought to the dinosaur galleries at the Museum of Natural History.


Six and a half hours later we arrived at the school and found his dorm. Jonathan went to check in. He came back to tell me that his room was on the second floor, the elevator was not running, there was no one to help us move his stuff in, and we would have to carry everything up. It was about 90 degrees. No way was I doing that. I went to the check-in desk to get help and told one of the fellows that my son had Tourette Syndrome and the heat made him very uncomfortable. He understood right away and quickly arranged for help.


After unpacking, Jonathan and I went to an IHOP (International House of Pancakes) for dinner. My son sat across from me in a booth, shaking. He said he was nervous and scared. I started to tell him about some of my own experiences in similar situations, and I told him there were about 1500 other students who had arrived today, and many had never been away from home before either. I reminded him he was not alone.


The next morning, I picked him up at 10:30AM. I told him that I needed to leave by noon to return the rental car on time. "12:00?" he said. "Can't you stay longer? So you'll pay for another day, so what." I told him I couldn't do that. "Can you leave at 1:00? You'll still have enough time." We compromised, and I left at 12:30.


When it was time to say good-by, we stood facing each other in the parking lot. Jonathan doesn't like me to hug or kiss him in public, so I waited, unsure of what to do. He suddenly grabbed me and gave me a big bear hug and thanked me for getting him and all his stuff up to school. He thanked me for calming him down. When our "official" hug ended, I reached up and held him by his shoulders. I could feel the emotion and the welling of tears start to come but I covered it all up with a laugh as I held myself tightly together. I could see the feelings in him, too. He had said to me earlier in the morning, "You'll go back home and everything will be familiar, you'll have Lucky, your cat who follows you around, your own room, your own bed, familiar noises, while I'll be here in a strange room." I reminded him that his good friend Jesse, who used to come to our house every day, was now his roommate.


"Jonathan, please know, that even though I have my familiar surroundings, to me they are just background, stuff I never pay much attention to. What will be so different now is that you won't be there each night when I come home from work to call out a cheery 'hi mom.' So, yes my routine and my life will be very different."


I got into my car and found my way home. I called Jonathan. He said he was feeling OK. He had been online already with his friends, had stocked the new fridge. He was going to sleep soon. The next day, he reminded me, was the first day of classes. He sounded good. He thanked me again for settling him in. The next day I would start MY new chapter. I'm nervous and scared, too.


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