Charlie Goes To College

Tommy Greenwald is a multi-talented guy.

He’s the executive creative director at Spotco, an ad agency for Broadway shows.

He’s written the Charlie Joe Jackson book series (for reluctant readers), and john & jen (for musical theater-goers). 

Tommy Greenwald

He’s also a Staples grad — married to a fellow alum — and the father of 3 teenage boys.

Tommy’s blog (tagline: “A Shrine to  Everything Me”) is usually light-hearted. On Wednesday, though, he turned misty-eyed. He and Cathy had just left Charlietheir oldest — at college.

Tommy wrote:

I had to wait a day or two to write this post to make sure I could handle it.

On Monday we dropped our oldest son, Charlie, at Emerson for his freshman year. It was a memorable day, in every sense of the word.

I’m going to sound like a typical parent here, but Charlie is a remarkable person. Incredibly kind and extremely funny, he lights up any room he’s in. He’s a great son and a great friend.

So I knew it would be hard letting him go. But I didn’t quite realize how hard.

It first hit me about a week before he left. We’d had a great summer, he was in a fantastic mood, but one night I suddenly realized that in a week’s time, he’d be gone.

That was the first night I cried.

We had a great week after that, though. A lot of fun events, including my book launch events and a commercial shoot with Paul Rudd, kept us occupied and distracted.

But then came Sunday night.

Charlie, Joe and Jack Greenwald, two years ago.

Charlie hunkered down with his brothers Joe and Jack to watch the season finale of True Blood. They watched the show together religiously, every week. It was fortuitous that the season finale was broadcast the night before Charlie left for college and Joe and Jack had their first day of school.

I was watching Charlie as the show ended. He was completely wrapped up in the episode, but the second it ended, his face changed. It was as if he knew summer was officially over, and tomorrow he would be leaving. For the first time, I saw a hint of doubt and nervousness creep into his expression.

It was getting real.

We did a little packing and a lot of hugging that night, and I’m not gonna lie (one of Charlie’s favorite expressions), sleep was a little tough to come by.

The next morning, Monday, we sprung into action. Charlie and I took Moose and Coco for one last walk – his relationship with the dogs is a thing of beauty – and Cathy helped him with his last-minute packing (or should I say stuffing, since his suitcases were garbage bags. A great space-saving technique, btw.)

We hit the road about 11, and had a great drive up. Good conversation, a little nosh, easy traffic. We talked about a lot of things that made us feel good, including that fact that when you add it all up, he’s basically only at college 6 ½ months of the year, and home the other 5 ½ months. At these prices! Never have I been so grateful for being ripped off so royally.

Charlie Greenwald

We pulled into Boston around 2 and turned the corner onto Boylston Street, where we were immediately greeted by the uniquely Emersonian brand of happiness. Adorable students gave us our parking instructions while dancing in the streets; incredibly nice people all over the place got us checked in and situated while music blasted through the halls; we found Charlie’s room, which has a view of the Boston Common that rivals anything on Central Park West.

The hole in my heart was being nicely obscured by all the good vibes around us. But it was still there.

Cathy was a rock; Charlie seemed nervous but excited; and we were running out of excuses to stay by his side.

Finally, with the bed made, the clothes put away and the laundry lesson over, we all took the elevator to the lobby one last time. We contemplated going over to the campus store to take a look around, but Cathy said, “You know what? It’s time to go.” And she was absolutely right.

No long goodbyes, though. That was agreed upon well ahead of time. Cathy and I each gave Charlie a quick hug, kissed him, and sent him on his way. No looking back. Only looking ahead.

The ride home was not easy. Cathy and I cried. But we talked a lot, too, and managed to remind ourselves how blessed we are to have a son that we are going to miss so much.

Last night, Jack, the family computer whiz, hooked up our first video chat with Charlie. It was great to see him. He was funny and goofy. He seemed genuinely happy – although knowing him, even if he wasn’t, he’d pretend to be for our benefit. But I believed it. And since my happiness is in direct correlation with my children’s happiness, I was able to sleep a little better last night.

Time is a funny thing. Relentless, but forgiving. A stealer, and a healer. It’s also a paradox: I don’t want it to go fast, but yet I can’t wait to see my son again. In the meantime, we’ve got to sit our son Joe down this weekend and get down to business.

He’ll be applying to college this fall.

10 responses to “Charlie Goes To College

  1. Kerstin Warner

    Wishing Charlie, the whole Greenwald clan, and all the families sending their kids off to a new school experience all the best.

  2. Eileen Francis

    How bittersweet. Thanks for sharing, Tom. Knowing Charlie (albeit slightly), he will be just fine in Boston. He’s a good kid with a good head on his shoulders, no doubt thanks to fine parents like yourselves. It’s always difficult to see time fly by, yet satisfying to see the milestones come and go as our children evolve into (hopefully) respectful, kind, responsible adults. For what it’s worth, I always smiled when I saw Charlie (probably because HE is always smiling). Have fun during all your trips to Boston – it’s a great city!

  3. Wow, just change a few names and a couple of details and that could have been my story, word for word. We’ve now joined the fraternity of parents with grown up children. Not sure if I like this club yet.

  4. Tommy–how are you going to handle it when Charlie moves out to LA (when he becomes a famous multi-talented personality himself as an actor, singer-musician, and sports commentator)? Charlie, best of luck!

  5. Tom, I read your heartfelt words as we had just walked in the house after dropping Emily in Ann Arbor for her first year. I, too, had held my tears at bay (somewhat) at our departure fearing a massive floodgate breach. Charlie is a fantastic guy and he will soar, Emily too. Thanks for voicing so beautifully what many of us 1st timers were feeling, and btw Thanksgiving is a mere 83 days away…but who’s counting!

  6. Beautiful post – thank you for sharing!

  7. Jim Honeycutt

    We miss Charlie already at Staples. Our TV Production classes and TV shows will miss his on-air personality. He was one of the great ones. For us, he is in great school and we look forward to watching him take off. Best wishes to he and the family!

  8. I wonder if there’s an ICD9 code these days for second-hand melancholia? That’s where through various volunteer endeavors in town you’ve watched not only your own kids grow up, but their many friends, classmates, teammates, etc. mature to college age as well. As for the Greenwalds, I’m sure Charlie will be in the stands cheering on Joe and Jack come their respective championship games this fall.

  9. Estelle T. Margolis

    How can so much talent and beauty be deposited in one family! Not fair!
    Not only his parents, but all of Staples and his many, many friends will miss Charlie. His spirit was a gift to us all.
    Thank you, Tommy, for a lovely, tearful, look at your day. Your classmate, Abby Margolis, is doing the same trip with her son Jonah going to Brown.
    Love you, Charlie .Enjoy Emerson, they are lucky to have you there,

    Estelle T. Margolis

  10. Charlie is one of my best friends. He made my Players, and overall high school experience a very meaningful one. There’s truly nobody else like him on the face of the earth. The conversations you have with him always feel profound, even if it’s making ridiculous jokes about Will Ferrell’s Anchorman. I know he’ll do absolutely incredible things at Emerson, but I’ll miss him every day he’s there. Good luck dude!