We'd scarcely pulled out of the driveway when I saw silent tears falling from the corners of Jon's eyes. He would tell me later that Caleb's young life flashed before him as we drove down the hill away from home. The memories of driving him to sports practices, seminary and other activities played in his mind. The harsh reality of our son leaving our home rest heavy on our hearts.
We had spent the previous days packing up his belongings. We sorted through what he wanted to take with him and what could be left behind. I struggle to find the words to describe the emotions of this moment. Sad? Anxious? Denial? Excited? Yep, all of that and more.
Months earlier, Caleb had received a Super Bowl patch that he'd hoped to add to his beloved Seahawks jersey. The night before we left to take him to BYU-I, Jon decided he'd try ironing it on for him. Seconds later, both the iron and Caleb's jersey were ruined. The massive hole left in the jersey seemed the perfect metaphor for my heart.
We made it to Rexburg on Friday morning. We had just enough time to move Caleb into his new apartment and set up his room before he headed off to freshman orientation.
His apartment is so nice--spacious with plenty of storage.
In-apartment laundry and an extra refrigerator were luxuries I never had in college.
Caleb and his new roommate, Matt, who is from Georgia:
The freshman were put into "I groups" for orientation, which began in the center courts of the BYUI Center. Here they are playing get-to-know-you games:
As we walked through campus, I reflected on Caleb's middle school and high school schedule pick-up days. On those two occasions, he seemed too little to be making those big life steps. I had the distinct thought that for the first time in his life, we were arriving at a major life milestone and he looked like be belonged.
BYU-I is a special place. The campus is beautiful and "The Spirit of Ricks" undoubtedly resides there. Though I dreaded the empty room left at my house in Auburn, I continually felt that there was no other place I'd want Caleb to be.
He attended his new student ward on Sunday and then we spent the evening playing cards in our hotel lobby. He was set to begin classes Monday morning and we were planning to head home early. The girls had stayed back at home and though I really didn't want to leave Caleb, it was time. The inevitable moment of goodbye had arrived.
"I guess you guys probably want to get to bed," Caleb surmised. It was obvious that he dreaded--even feared--this moment as much as we did.
"Yep," was Jon's reply.
We'd spent the weekend, along with my parents, helping him get acquainted with campus and purchasing necessities. We'd tried to think of everything to make him comfortable, but his anxiety was palpable. Still, he was so brave. I was trying to brave, too.
I felt a wave of nausea come over me as I stood up from the table in the hotel lobby. When Jon asked Caleb if he wanted to drive one last time, the eruption of emotion started bubbling to the surface and I knew it would soon come spewing from my eyes.
We got out of the car in the parking lot of Caleb's new apartment and I grabbed my son not wanting to let him go, yet knowing that this was exactly what I'd hoped, prayed and worked so dang hard for.
As I hugged him, my ear rest directly on his rapidly pounding heart. He kept clearing his throat to keep his emotions and tears in check. We'd been teasing him for months that we planned to FaceTime him every day and he was always adamant that we should NOT do that! Every day was WAY too often, he'd insist. But here in this moment, Caleb suddenly had a change of heart and he told us we could FaceTime him as much as we wanted. We talked to him for several minutes and assured him that we would be there to support him and that the occasional failure was normal, permissible and to be expected. We told him to remember to maintain a relationship with the Savior and that his grandmother would always be there to help from the other side.
When it could not be prolonged any longer, we got in the car and he walked in the dark toward the steps of his apartment. Jon started to drive away when I shouted, "Wait! I need to watch him walk up." When he got to the top of the stairs, Jon let out one quick honk of the horn. Caleb turned and waved one last time and then he was gone.
I cried for quite some time that night and intermittently all the next day as we drove home.
My first little birdie has officially left the nest and he took a large piece of my heart with him.
September was fast approaching, which meant my days with Caleb under my roof were numbered. Such impending changes brought about an urgency to make as many lasting memories as possible. I don't think I could've dreamt up a better last hurrah. Really, it was perfect. Nothing is more tailor-made for Caleb than traveling to a fun location to watch our beloved Cougars play in their first game of the 2016 season.
Our plane touched down in the desert early Friday morning. The temperature was already well into the 90's by the time we checked into our hotel and walked through the blazing sun for breakfast at Oink Cafe. After pedicures for us girls, we were anxious to hit the pool. The cool water was refreshing, making the late summer heat not only bearable, but pleasant.
Old Town Scottsdale was next on our well-planned agenda.
We did a bit of trolley riding and shopping before heading to Cien Agaves for dinner.
When in Scottsdale, you must eat here. It cannot be overstated how much we loved it.
Jester'z hilarious--and totally clean--improv comedy provided after-dinner entertainment. So funny!
Dessert at Sugar Bowl was a great way to end the day.
We slept in Saturday morning, but when I woke, I tried going for a run. I struggled through three sweltering miles before I admitted defeat. Besides, a made-to-order omelet and the cool pool water were calling to me.
Our pool time was so very enjoyable.
Later that afternoon, we donned our "Reppin' the Y" shirts and made our way to the CougarTown tailgate party at a high school near the football stadium. Have I mentioned that it was hot? Like, I-can-only-be-away-from-AC-for-about-one-minute-before-I-feel-like-I'm-going-to-die hot!
We recreated the picture we took at CougarTown in Corvallis in 2011. A huge canvas of that 2011 picture hangs in my home and it is the cover photo for this blog. It will forever be my favorite picture of my kids as it captures their personalities (and our BYU love) perfectly! The 2016 Arizona version is pretty cute, too:
There were lots of fun little games to play and a yummy BBQ dinner to be had.
We painted our faces, visited with Cosmo and delighted in BYU Creamery ice cream and BYU brownies. Oh and won a few raffle prizes, too.
Finally, it was game time! The University of Phoenix Stadium was comfortably air-conditioned.
We got to meet up with some favorite people, Megan and Skyler White, while we waited for kickoff. Megan was our go-to babysitter for years.
I also got to spend a few minutes with one of my dearest college friends, Sara Hult.
Caleb was anxious to get this party started!
Wouldn't you know it, the game came down to a last second field goal by our very inexperienced freshman kicker. Crazy stressful!
I watched that pass right through the uprights, just a few feet from our seats, and I cried. Not because the Cougars had won, though I was ecstatic about that, but because it was a storybook ending for the final weekend with my boy. I knew the memories of this experience would now be that much sweeter.
It was quite late when we arrived back at our hotel, but we were flying high. We slept well and long.
On Sunday morning, we attended church at a ward near the Mesa temple. The meeting was packed, which we soon learned was quite unusual and due a high number or visiting Cougar fans like us. It was fast and testimony meeting and the bishop had been at the game the night before. He and nearly every person after him referenced it in their remarks. I joked that we attended the BYU sacrament meeting that day.
Then we went to the Mesa Temple visitor's center. We watched three new Meet the Mormon videos, which were all wonderful. We strolled the temple grounds for as long as the heat would allow.
Rustler's Rooste was our dinner stop that night. The food was pretty good, but the experience was fantastic. After we greeted the live steer outside, we made our way to our table via slide.
Nat was very happy with the dinner, but not about having her picture taken. But hey, she got cotton candy with dinner. How cool is that?
We had live music and a table-side magician. Caleb downed a full rack of ribs and his BBQ sauce-covered face revealed his contentment.
Positioned atop a bluff, the restaurant provided spectacular views of the desert sunset.
Monday morning was Jon's 44th birthday and he wanted to spend it at Top Golf. Jon's always been a pretty decent golfer. The rest of us, not so much.
But Top Golf makes it fun to try and their food is really great!
Dessert afterwards at the Baked Bear was a highlight for everyone--except the birthday boy. He chose not to try it. Build your own cookie ice cream sandwiches? Are you kidding me? And they had gluten-free, too! I'm sure Caleb would've given two thumbs up, but then he wouldn't be able to hold that massive bowl of deliciousness.
We had just enough time to do the short Hole-in-the-Wall hike before making our way to the airport.
See what I mean? Could there be a more perfect way to spend our last weekend together as a family? We would be leaving to take Caleb to college just three days later.
The Cactus Kickoff memories will be sweet and lasting.