As my daughter pulls into a parking place, she tilts her chin up to see over the hood, just the way her mother does.
"How's that?" my daughter asks.
"Maybe your best ever," I say.
"Let's go," she quickly says.
What's the rush, you ask? College is the rush.
We're on this college campus in San Diego, L.A.'s pampered little suburb to the south. A beautiful campus. An educational Oz.
"Mind if I stay?" I ask my daughter.
"Yes," she says.
OK, so we've gotten that out of the way. I can't stay. But I can nose around a little. Peek inside the library. Sniff the dorms for beer.
"Here, carry this," someone says, handing me a lamp.
"And this, too," they say, piling on some pillows.
The dads are the oxen of a freshman dorm. They pile us high with lamps and rugs and clothing, then point us toward a double door.
By the thousands, these dad-oxen come. When we're done, our children reward us by leaving.
"She doesn't seem too upset," I tell my wife after unloading both cars.
"About leaving home," I say.
What's to be upset about? The campus is terrific. The kids seem pleasant enough as teenagers go, little Holden Caulfields, with cell phones holstered in their saggy cargo pants.
"Look at that guy," I tell my son.
It's a show, seeing what kids bring to college. Most carry their stacks of CDs and their Dell computers.
But one ambitious young scholar is carrying in golf clubs, a surfboard and a guitar.
We spot other surfboards, but this is the only guy with a board, sticks and a guitar.
I guess some kids seize the day. Other kids seize the surf and the first tee. Carpe college, baby.
"He'll be gone in a year," I tell the boy.
"He just will," I say.
Outside the campus bookstore, a couple of kids discuss the current state of campus romance.
"Next time I get into a serious relationship, it's not going to be monogamous," a boy says. "I'm sick of that."
"You can't limit yourself," a young woman says. "You have to go for it."
"Exactly," the boy says.
At the campus center, three other young scholars discuss sports and current events.
"The football game starts at 7," one kid says. "So we'll probably start boozin' about 4."
Of course, these days that sort of stuff only takes place off campus. Most college campuses are pretty much dry now.
Back in the 1970s, when the drinking age was still 12, beer was everywhere. At floor parties, pep rallies. Breakfast.
Not anymore. Today, there's not a keg in sight. Like love beads and the SDS, a thing of the past.
Leave it to us parents, once the most-blasted generation of college students ever, to impose this new Prohibition on our children. Leave it to us to take the high out of higher education.
"OPEN BAR, 18 AND UP," screams an ad in the student newspaper about some Tijuana saloon 20 miles to the south.
"That's great," I tell my wife as I read the ad. "We're driving them out of the country."
"I've already talked to her about all that Tijuana stuff," she says.
"Good," I say, meaning every word.
Back in the dorm room, the last boxes are emptied. My daughter stacks photos of her high school friends along her desk.
It's a new dorm, though like all freshmen dorms, it'll soon be a breeding ground for mononucleosis and bad political debate.
Once the moms and dads leave, they'll probably sit around, these Holden and Holly Caulfields, sit around these dorms late at night with their cell phones and their pierced navels and question their parents' values. Until one day they'll miss the comfort of it all and pursue the good life, too, while gradually growing up to become their parents.
It's a sad cycle in some ways, but reassuring in others. Sort of funny-ironic. Eventually, everything in life becomes funny-ironic.
"Maybe, as they settle into their new lives, they'll learn to be a little more respectful and appreciative of all these things," one of the roommates' dads suggests as we sit around watching our girls unpack.
I kind of doubt it. Then again, at college almost anything is possible.
"We should go," my wife finally says.
"Not yet," says the little girl.
"Yeah, we should go," I say.
There are hugs and last-minute advice.
"Don't forget to, you know, shower," her mother says.
"After you sneeze," her little sister advises, "you should wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing 'Happy Birthday."'
"Thanks," says her big sister, hugging her the hardest.
I stand there, taking small breaths, while my wife fluffs our daughter's pillow for the last time.
She fluffs it, smacks it square, fluffs it some more, just like she's been doing nightly for 18 years.
"There," my wife finally says.
"Nice work," I say.
"There," she says again, fluffing it some more.
More quick hugs, all around. Someone swallows hard. Maybe it was me.
Then, suddenly, there are just the four of us, back in the car, back on the busy highway home.
Thank God for our kids. Thank God for freshman dorms, the last playground we'll ever take them to.
Good luck, baby. Carpe college.
Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is email@example.com.