Friday, September 4, 2015

The Drop-Off

TigerBlog has a bunch of pictures on the shelf above his desk.

At the far end, there's one that's actually two pictures. It shows TigerBlog Jr., on his last day of high school. He's just gotten out of his car, and he has a slight grin on his face, one that said "hey, I'm just a little too cool to make a big deal out of this."

That's the right side of the picture. The left side is TBJ, Day 1 of kindergarten. He's just gotten on the school bus for the first time, and he has a huge, ear-to-ear smile on his face, one that said "this is the coolest thing I've ever done."

TigerBlog has no memory of when TBJ first went to kindergarten. He doesn't remember the bus. The bus stop. None of it.

He does vividly remember a day several years before that, the first time he dropped TBJ off at his babysitter. TBJ was probably just short of a year old, and he went to day care at the house of a woman named Debbie, along with four other kids.

Actually, TigerBlog had taken off a few months from work, sort of, during the 1997-98 winter, to prolong sending TBJ off to the babysitter. It was an interesting time for TigerBlog, as he did all the work as the athletic communications contact - and went to every game - while spending his days taking care of a baby.

That of course wasn't just any Princeton men's basketball season. That happened to be the season when Princeton went 27-2 and moved into the national Top 10.

Princeton was the talk of college basketball that winter, and TigerBlog has a book that chronicles pretty much all of the different media outlets that came here to write about the Tigers. And it was everyone.

The New York Times Magazine. Not the newspaper. Well, the newspaper too, but the Sunday Magazine section. USA Today. The Los Angeles Times. The Boston Globe. Newsweek. Sports Illustrated of course. The San Antonio Express-News. The Washington Post - but with George Will, not just a sportswriter. The Dallas Morning News. The Chicago Tribune. The Baltimore Sun.

All of these publications - and more - came to Princeton, to this campus, to write about the men's basketball team. It was like the women's basketball team's run last year, only without the internet to help push it along.

TigerBlog had no cell phone then. There was no webpage, and he had no way to connect to the internet at home anyway. He had email. That was it. And voicemail on his work phone.

All day long, he'd get messages from media people who wanted to talk to then-head coach Bill Carmody and a handful of the players. TigerBlog would field all the calls, set up the interviews and do all of the things that used to define the position.

Of course, he didn't have a laptop. He did take a computer home with him, but it was an old, old, old Mac, one he could barely do anything beyond word processing. TB would write gamenotes and then have to come into the office to import them into the format he used then.

All while taking care of a baby. Nap time - TBJ was a great napper when he was a baby - was a valuable time for TigerBlog.

Anyway, eventually the day came to drop him off at the babysitter. She lived in Ewing, and TB dropped TBJ off on the way into the office.

The first day was not easy. As he left him there, TigerBlog was filled with a wide array of emotions, really every emotion a person could have. He was concerned about leaving his son in this strange new environment, but he recognized it as a step forward in the walk down life's path. He was sad to say goodbye to the time he'd spent at home with his son, but he was excited at what was coming next.

TigerBlog has never forgotten what that explosion of emotions felt like. Nothing he'd done from that day forward had ever matched it - until last Saturday.

That was when TigerBlog again dropped his son off for the first time. This time, instead of for a few hours at a babysitter, it was at college, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, to be exact.

Yes, this was another emotional explosion. It still is, actually.

TigerBlog has spent his career looking out his window and seeing college students everywhere. It never really dawned on him that someone dropped them off here at Princeton for the first time, and that it might have been a difficult moment for them.

It's not difficult, per se, as in "the baby is in college." It's difficult because of the helplessness of knowing that there are so many questions that TigerBlog has that he won't be getting answered and so much advice that won't be offered.

TigerBlog Jr. hasn't exactly been good about staying in touch in his first week at school. That's okay. TigerBlog gets it.

TBJ has not initiated any contact other than to email his dad the Sacred Heart lacrosse schedule for the spring and to tell him that he'll wear No. 11 for the Pioneers. Other than that, it's been five texts sent for every one that comes back, and words are more like 20-1 or 40-1.

TBJ lives in a wing of a dorm that has six rooms, with 17 men total. And one bathroom. TBJ's roommate is also a lacrosse teammate who apparently prefers to be called by his last name of "Foley," and there are several other athletes in the wing, including a fencer and football player. The football player was the first person other than Foley that TigerBlog met on move-in day, and he was wearing a "Princeton Tigers" t-shirt, which TB took as a good omen.

It was a typical move-in, TB supposes. Unload the stuff. Unpack it. This goes here. That goes there.

About five hours earlier, with the car loaded up with TBJ's stuff, TigerBlog had backed out of the driveway and started down the street. As he pulled away, he looked back above the driveway, where he'd first shot tennis balls at his son more than a decade ago, and then into the backyard, where they graduated to a lacrosse goal and lacrosse ball, often having the balls end up in the yard of the next door neighbor Bill, a retired airline pilot, or even smashing off of Bill's house. Fortunately, he never minded.

Hours and hours, TigerBlog and TigerBlog Jr. would do this. TB would shoot lefty. He'd shoot righty. He'd bounce shots. He'd shoot high. Even at seven or eight years old, TBJ would never flinch. Over time, TB would shoot harder and harder and eventually hardest, as hard as he could, but by then TBJ was too good for him.

As TigerBlog thinks back about it, he remembers the game they'd play. As they came to the end of their shooting session, no matter how long it was, they had a contest. Could TigerBlog score five goals before TigerBlog Jr. made five saves. Shots wide didn't count.

If TigerBlog lives to be 100, he'll remember those moments as among the very best of his life.

Now, though, the car had left the neighborhood, and as TB came to the center of town, he saw a father crossing a street holding the hand of his son, who appeared to be about three or four.

It made TigerBlog think back to how fast it's all gone by. One day, you're walking across the street with your oldest, who's not yet old enough to go to school at all. The next, you're driving through the same town, on the way to a college, where he won't be able to get rid of you fast enough.

And now it was time to go. TigerBlog's mind raced, filled with everything he wanted to say, everything he thought he needed to say, one more crash course on what a college freshman needed to know to be successful.

Only he said none of it. He knew it was too late by then. It was time to go.

So all that was left to do was to tell TBJ that he loved him and he was proud of him - and to hope that 18 years worth of parenting made some kind of mark on him.

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