Here’s one college move-in story I can guarantee you haven’t heard before.
This fall, my son began his freshman year at a college too far from our home in New York for us to load the car with all his stuff and drive him, which we had done for his older sister each year. Instead, he decided to fly, and because New York’s COVID-19 regulations would have required us to quarantine for 14 days upon our return, we sent him by himself. His luggage would be picked up at our house, placed in a gigantic U-Haul, and driven 16 hours to the Midwest, where it would sit in a warehouse in the summer heat for nearly a week until he arrived to claim it. I lamented that I wouldn’t be able to make up his bed in his dorm room. He said I shouldn’t worry; he’s not planning to make his bed — ever. Cringe.
His impending independence notwithstanding, my son was grateful when I offered to pack the duffle bag with linens, blankets, towels and various other sundries for his room. I explained the usage of the new white mattress pad and pillow protectors, and he looked at me blankly. He politely declined the washcloths, wondering aloud what they’re for. I added a surge protector and a small fan, and congratulated myself on providing some items that will be useful but wouldn’t have occurred to him. I tossed in a collapsible lawn chair in the hopes he’ll socially distance outdoors while the weather holds.
I left him to pack his clothes — he was way too grown up for me to choose his pants or count his underwear. I smiled when I noticed he’d packed a suit for yom tov and teared up when I saw he’d left at least a few of his beloved Mets shirts behind. On Sunday night, he managed to stuff all of his clothes and shoes into his old, soft-sided camp trunk. I don’t know whether he had to sit on the top to close the zipper; I was afraid to ask.
On Monday morning, two friendly and efficient young men arrived to pick up the bags. We watched as they loaded the luggage onto the truck, then we went inside the house, lost in thought, wondering what to do with ourselves until his departure the following Sunday.
On Wednesday night, after dinner, my son opened the freezer and, after looking around for a minute, asked, “Where’s my ice cream?”
“I don’t know. Did you buy ice cream?” I asked.
“Yes. I bought a pint of Häagen-Dazs when I went to the CVS for my shampoo and stuff.”
A look of confusion passed over his face, then understanding, then horror. He had packed the ice cream in his clothes trunk.
“What flavor?” I asked, in an attempt to mask my distress.
“Vanilla chocolate chip.”
My son, an honors physics student in high school, calculated the volume of frozen versus melted ice cream and contemplated how the container would expand in the heat. I retreated to my bedroom to run a Google search: Does melted ice cream in a closed space explode? I found nothing, but was not reassured.
All week, I imagined every permutation of what that ice cream was doing in my son’s luggage. I envisioned a terrible sour odor emanating from the bag, clinging to his clothing and destroying any chance of him making new friends. I saw the chocolate staining his good suit. In the middle of the night, I woke up in a sweat, picturing ants, literally, in his pants.
By Thursday, my son announced he was “over it.” It will be what it will be.
He left on the plane Sunday morning, and I sat on my hands so I wouldn’t flood him with texts upon his arrival. In the mid-afternoon, he finally posted a video in our family group chat. I watched as he approached the bag, nose-first, announcing that from the outside, there was no smell. He methodically opened the trunk, removing layers and pausing to sniff, until he uncovered the paper CVS bag. He reached in and pulled out the pint of ice cream. It was entirely intact, dry and odorless. He raised a fist in triumph and declared with a confident smile, “We’re all good.”
And we are. We’re all good.
Reyna Marder Gentin is a graduate of Yale Law School. Her forthcoming novel for young readers, My Name is Layla, will be published in January 2021.