Written by Liz Eisen
It took weeks to get Adam ready to move into his dorm. Multiple trips to Bed, Bath & Beyond yielded the requisite twin extra-long sheets, blankets, comforter and the (thick, really thick) mattress pad needed for the bed in his new room. We bought towels, spiral-bound notebooks, desk accessories, a toaster oven, a coffee maker (aka the “ramen noodle soup” cooking machine), a mini refrigerator, posters and clothes. A week before move in day on campus, my living room was stacked with what we thought was everything Adam would need to live at a college that was five hours away from home.
To say that I had mixed emotions would be putting it mildly. I was immensely proud of my 18 year old for getting accepted at the school he had worked so hard to attend. I was grateful that he would still be in California, and the five-hour drive easily translated into a flight that took less than an hour. I knew I would miss seeing his mischievous grin every day and I vowed not to be the mom that would call or text so much that I would pester my son on this first leg of his journey into adulthood.
Just before the big move, we visited my sister-in-law Laurie and her family in Los Angeles. They practice Orthodox Judaism, more observant than the conservative sect of the faith in which Michael and I have raised our children. Laurie and her husband have seven children; the four girls love spending time with their older cousin Melissa and the three boys rambunctiously treat Adam and Bryan as two more brothers. During our visit, conversations ranged from politics to family gossip to Adam leaving for college. I mentioned to Laurie that the only thing I had not yet gotten was a mezuzah for his dorm room. She went to a cabinet in her kitchen and pulled out several extras she had and let Adam choose one. He picked a mezuzah with a carved wooden case and silver Hebrew lettering into which Laurie rolled up the tiny parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah.
A mezuzah is affixed to doorways of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) of inscribing the Shema “on the doorposts of your house” to remind us of God’s presence in our lives and in our hearts. On the scroll inside the mezuzah the Shema is written out, along with a companion passage also from the book of Deuteronomy. Many Jews touch the mezuzah as they enter a room and then kiss their fingertip, which I didn’t grow up with and don’t practice. I always look respectfully at the mezuzah when I walk into a Jewish house. I don’t see the case and the scroll as a good-luck charm, but as a reminder of my faith.
We have four mezuzot in our home, one on the front entry door and also in the doorways of each of our three children’s rooms. Adam has always slept in a bedroom with a mezuzah on the doorframe. I was reassured to know that he would bring one with him to college. That could be the first step to meeting a nice Jewish girl who he could date throughout college, marry in 10 years and then give me gorgeous grandchildren.
All too soon, Adam was packing the car for us to drive him north to school. He is a pragmatic young man and he realized that one small SUV, all his dorm necessities plus his family of five would be a tight squeeze in the car. He packed into every available space; the mini-refrigerator became a suitcase of sorts, non-breakables were gently shoved under the seats and I think he would have used the well holding the spare tire if we would have let him.
Move-in day in the dorm was a blue-skied Saturday, which helped a bit with the gray feeling I was masking. The sub-terrain parking of the building was set aside strictly for the unpacking of cars. As we hunted for a parking space, I was amazed at the items people were unloading. Big screen televisions, gaming consoles, clear storage boxes filled with what looked like enough food to last through the entire semester. Many move-in veteran parents had brought furniture-moving dollies to transfer boxes upstairs. I glanced in the back of our car and wondered aloud if we brought enough to last Adam until our next trip to San Jose. The recommendation from the university was that freshman should not have cars, so Adam would be depending on public transportation and his skateboard to get anything or anywhere off-campus.
Michael, Melissa, Bryan and I waited in the hall with the contents of the car while Adam checked in and received his dorm card key. I was unsure of the protocol; did we bring everything into the room and then quietly make our exit to leave Adam to unpack on his own? Or, did we help him fill dresser drawers and make his bed? I decided on the wait and see plan of action. As we made our way through the halls to his room, we passed by many parents and siblings also carrying boxes.
We ended up helping Adam unpack everything, meeting his roommates and their parents and then spending the afternoon together having lunch, seeing the area, shopping at Fry’s for the internet cable we didn’t know was needed, grocery shopping and then out to dinner at Iguanas, a Mexican food favorite of students that is the home of the five pound, 18” ‘Burritozilla’. Everyone hungrily tucked into our last dinner together for a while and I choked down a salad.
Adam was in a hurry to return to his dorm to start getting to know his roommates and shift into this new phase of his life. I reminded him to ask his (non-Jewish) roommate if it was all right to put the mezuzah on the doorframe and Adam absently nodded to me in between bites. After eating, we dropped our son off as close to the building as we could and accepted his refusal of help, instead watching him slowly walk across the darkened campus with grocery bags on each arm, lugging two cases of bottled water.
Our plan was to drive home Sunday morning after a quick visit to the campus bookstore. Instead, Adam asked if we could take him and a roommate to Target and Costco to stock up on more forgotten necessities. Two hours later, we had finally gotten Bryan an SJSU hat and a sticker for the car window. We called Adam to come meet us to say goodbye and were surprised with an invitation to his room. “I want you guys to see where I put up my posters and stuff.”
As we walked through the halls of the dorm, now crowded only with students, my throat tightened. This was it, the moment I had been anticipating and dreading since I walked to school holding Adam’s hand for the first day of kindergarten. Tears filled my eyes, but did not spill out until we reached Adam’s room. Before I walked in to see where my son had taped up soccer posters, I touched the wooden case he had affixed to his doorway and kissed my fingertip.