My daughter is mere weeks from college graduation, and my son is just behind her preparing for high school graduation. By November of last year my daughter knew where she would work, my son knew where he would study and much of the angst of the season of unknown transition was absent from our house.
Every child is different we know, this time around when I was knotted up with the need to let go of expectations early in my son’s high school career I felt adrift from the community that was still by and large believing all of their children would be receiving full scholarships to Elite U. I said the shocking thing about maybe my child not attending college right after high school and was given sympathetic frowns as condolence for not having a perfect child like everyone else. But I understood then, as I do now more intimately that it is not my journey, it is my child’s, my child is not me, and there is not only one path that everyone must walk. Hard to remember sometimes in the ultra-competitive Bay Area.
The boy simply did not know what he wanted “next” at 15 years old, and that I think is perfectly fine. At sixteen he wanted tour a handful of schools that met his very strict criteria, sixty percent confident that he wanted to join the military and not go straight to school. After the tours he changed his mind and new with certainty what he wanted. So with few reminders or prodding from parents he finished his application in August. One evening he simply said, “Mom can you read over this real quick before I hit submit?” And that was that. The whole thing was done early in September and when I sought companionship on the journey of letting go I too early. Everyone else was busy touring, writing, reviewing, etc. I heard much, “we haven’t decided yet.” And I again felt a little alone. “We” weren’t doing anything in my house, my son was getting ready to go I was getting ready to be done with parenting children – two very different things that require different kinds of attention and I believe, two things that should not be confused with each other.
I read an article today written by a parent, angry, frustrated, uncomprehending of the college admissions process presumably because her child did not get into the school one of them wanted her to get into. My daughter applied to ten schools, she unlike my son did know what she wanted next at 14 but at 16 (she was young) had no idea what institution was right for her, so we did the months long dance of waiting. I don’t understand why she got into some of the schools and not others, I know some of the games the schools play with “admitted” students and “enrolled” students, and I know how stressful this time is for kids. My daughter manifested that anxiety with regular nausea and vomiting so I got very good at cleaning the stairwell – her preferred spot to announce, “Mom I don’t feel good.” My job during that time was to hug her, when she let me, and to clean. She did not need me to have an investment on the outcome, she needed me present and then she needed me to let her go.
I have had a longer time to prepare with my son. But in September, next August was forever away, and now, as we all share on facebook, it will be here in only a blink. We have to let them go, we have to let them have this journey, good and bad and hard, because that is how they learn to do life. We make is worse when it is about us, collectively. My children are not a reflection of me, they are my responsibility to nurture, to help grow, to guide, and then to leave to fly on their own. Because we let them go and the new dance is how to be there, without being there all the time.