Farewelling my child before university

I met my son wrapped snug and tight in a padded cocoon strapped onto the back of his foster mother. His black hair stuck straight up in soft strands and wafted backwards and forwards with her body movements. Too young to appreciate the significance of the changeover of mothers, he sucked on a dummy and looked at my husband and me through watchful black eyes and an air of nonchalance.

The flight home from Seoul to Melbourne gave the three of us hours of bonding time. Our parenting skills developed in the space between our seats and the bulkhead in front of us, and with the aid of a packet of disposable nappies, a tin of powdered milk and a travel-sized sterilising unit. Our four-and-a-half-month-old son looked back at us from an airline bassinet as we gazed down on him, awestruck, nervous and exhilarated.

"I hoped to give him last-minute advice, but he fell asleep wearing his headphones."

“I hoped to give him last-minute advice, but he fell asleep wearing his headphones.”Credit:Liz Rowland/illustrationroom.com.au

Nineteen years later, I drove him on the long journey from our home town in East Gippsland to the university residence in Melbourne that was to be his new home. We bickered about who was going to drive, what we’d listen to and where we would stop for lunch. I hoped to use the opportunity, while he was trapped in the car, to give him last-minute advice, but he fell asleep wearing his headphones.

Instead, I traced the outline of his sleeping form to cram his details into my memory. In case, when he was gone, I might forget them. The square set of his jaw made swarthy by unshaven stubble; the long lock of black fringe that hung over one eye; the smooth intersections of his arm muscles and the square shape of his feet we called his duck feet, like the characters in his favourite childhood storybook, I Wish that I Had Duck Feet by Dr Seuss. I wanted to suspend the image at the same time I wanted to turn the car around and take us home. Time would not stand still. We hurtled down the highway towards his destiny.