It happened again. I wake with my sheets wound round me, legs akimbo, pulse spazzy. I’m fresh from a fight with something I know I can’t beat. It’s 4 a.m. and everyone else in the family is asleep. Our bedrooms are close and through thin walls, I hear my kids not stirring. Not flopping around on creaky springs. Not doing battle as I am.
Downstairs, our living quarters amble generously through wide-open rooms, but upstairs our three small bedrooms are smooshed side by side by side like hideaway nests. Perched above the bustling world with its snapping predators, careless traffic, and vexing noise, the cozy tree house where we slumber in proximity is quiet and still. Warm and laundry-scented. Closely knit.
For literally thousands of mornings, I’ve opened my eyes to the sunlit, soul-settling certainty that the people who matter most to me are within earshot of a groggy-but-grateful “G’ morney!” Even when I wake from pre-dawn nightmares, their collective presence offers deep and immediate comfort. It’s an absolute: As sure the sun will rise, my boys are near me, curled up, tucked in, at ease and at peace.
But that’s about to change. My son Stone, the subject of my very first column 16 years ago, leaves for college across the country in two weeks. All summer, friends have been checking in. “Soooo … are you OK?” Yeah! “Freaking out?” Naw, I’m good! Exciting times! So stoked for him! All under control! Let’s do this!
Looking back, I probably should have lied. It would have been more cordial. The woman was only making conversation, after all — not looking to meet my demons.
“Do you enjoy writing?” the nice mother asked me at back-to-school night last week as we both folded our overtall, underbendy bodies into the high school English class desks.
“Oh, yes,” I should have replied warmly. “Very much. Of course. More than anything. Who doesn’t?”
When my firstborn son was a toddler, I used to wonder if he would become a bouncer someday because he was big for his age — and fixated on doors. Opening them, closing them. Letting some in (the dog), keeping others out (the dad). He’d station himself in a doorway and take charge, wielding his power like Excalibur: You? Yes, by all means, enter. But not your friend. She waits out here with the others … until I say.
It was cute unless you were carrying groceries.
Now the tables have turned. He’s standing at the doorway of more than a dozen universities, waiting to see if he’ll be admitted. We’re staggering around in the three to four aimless months (110+ days!) between applying to colleges and hearing back from said colleges. The kid is handling it just fine — but for me, this limbo is anguish.
Ghostbusters reference, but let me explain. Parents are working harder than ever to get their kids into college. They start saving when their children are born, help them choose college prep courses as early as middle school, and schlep them to transcript-dazzling extracurricular pursuits throughout high school. But from where I stand — at the front of a classroom of legal adults who show up at a writing class without a pen — I fret their efforts may be off the mark. In fact, some of my campus colleagues and I agree that while today’s parents get an “A” in Getting Their Kids Into College, they get an “F” in Teaching the Entitled Little Buggers What to Do Once They Get There.