Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Letting go

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I've rarely been in as joyful and exuberant a place as the university campus on Labour Day.

Nervous, apprehensive, some farewell tears to be sure, but the overall feeling of young people making their break from home and taking on the world was exhilarating.

Even if we did have to say goodbye to child the younger and drive a couple of hours to Toronto airport to come back as empty nesters.

A weekend of shopping, stashing all the stuff at child the elder's house, then lugging it all into residence alongside hundreds of other families. Last-minute trips for more stuff, a dash to the bookstore closing in 10 minutes to grab a forgotten internet cable.

Sigh.

We watched child the younger go off self-confidently with two new friends to do their final registration paperwork, then later she's chilling in the neighbouring dorm room, where four young students who'd never met before were laughing comfortably and getting to know each other.

While we were pretending she was still our little kid, knowing only minutes were left until came our time of going away.

There were students putting on their bathing suits and diving into the river that meanders through the middle of campus. Kids hustling back from volleyball and lacrosse practice to start putting stuff away in their rooms -- their rooms, not like their bedroom at home, truly their first adult room -- kids hauling boxes from the trunks of parents' cars, kids rolling their eyes at the prospect of 'spirit leaders' organizing them into groups, but trotting off with big smiles to take part and make new friends. Residence dons running from floor to floor, answering a zillion questions, calming nerves, making everyone at home. Each room with a hand-written welcome on the door to the student who'll spend the next eight months away from home.

Trying not to think of the implications of not being able to walk into the housing and student accounts building until you'd used the hand sanitizer just inside the door.

This will take a while to get used to -- maybe you never totally get used to it -- but both our kids are young adults out to take their place in the world.

Being on campus on Labour Day was pretty reassuring for parents alone for the first time. No matter how cynical I can get, those few hours can make you believe all those clichés about limitless potential, and make you believe that the world is going to be in good hands.

Heads up, world.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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