College catalogs and S.A.T. books litter your kitchen. Discussions of scores and GPA’s and weather, and campuses become the norm. Conversations about dorms and frats, and majors never seem to get boring, but the incessant dissection of a college’s attributes contributes to the generalized anxiety plaguing everyone in a home that houses a high school senior.
The push to get the applications in isn’t easy. Unless you have an organized kid. which I do not. So, you cajole, beg, plead, and finally cry. They get in, those essays and apps, with an entire 45 seconds to spare.
Then you wait.
The first round of Early Decision kids up the stress level as word spreads like mono around the school. Acceptances, deferments, disappointments. You’re in or you’re out. It’s Project Runway without Heidi Klum.
You wait some more. Meanwhile you note the “last” everything you do before college. The last time you’ll vacation, get a haircut, go see Aunt Ethel (you don’t even have an Aunt Ethel).
All the while you hate yourself for wondering, “Is my kid good enough?” Why exactly didn’t you send them to Russian math school? Why didn’t you let them get those light up sneaker in kindergarten? Should you have nursed longer? (You should have, you know you should have. They’ll never get into a good school because you didn’t nurse long enough.) You become obsessed with how to react to rejection, because you know how to react to acceptance (You will have a small parade of 984,321 if there is an acceptance, ANY ACCEPTANCE).
And then you silently wonder, or not so silently wonder how it will be without your child in your house? How they will cope? HOW YOU WILL COPE?
How you will live.
And then it happens and they’re in. They’re into their number one long shot first choice, and they can’t believe it and you can’t believe it and for a good long time the excitement of this seeming miracle is like finding out that Aunt Ethel has left you an inheritance the size of Nebraska. You float. You feel vindicated for every parenting move you have ever made (nursing be damned). You feel proud of your brilliant offspring. You order a tuition worth of t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats with the college your child has just been accepted to emblazoned on the front (because you realize this may be the last clothing purchase you can afford for the next four years.)
And then they go. And you cry. Tell me if you don’t cry. Because if you don’t cry, you probably run on batteries. But then you stop crying and you start adjusting. And they call, and you call, and you wonder at night if they are safe, but you can’t know, because you forgot to microchip them before they left.
Then you see them and they’re the same, but different. And it’s so good to see them that you want to squeeze them until they can’t breathe. (and then you could keep them home!) But you don’t, you know you have to give them a long leash on this, the first time they come back. And you have a sort of up and down time, because things are a little topsy turvy now, with the new independence that’s been their life at school, mixed with the old life that’s been their life since they were born. And when they leave, you cry again. Because you were just getting used to them being home and then, just like that, they’re once again, not.
And this continues to happen. And you get a little smarter with each visit. You realize there is an adjustment each time you see them. They’ve grown and you, too have grown. You’re used to having their room clean, and you shudder a little when you see the clothes piled up like Mount Fujiama. They don’t think they need a curfew. You push and you pull. After a few days, you adjust. Again. Again, you adjust. And again, you say goodbye. And fuck it, again, if you don’t cry.
And this is what it is. This is what college is for we parents. They go. They come back. They love you, and hate you, and admire you, and disregard you, and separate, and hold tighter, and show off, and act aloof, insecure, despondent, silly, funny, out of their ever loving minds, completely and totally sane.
And every time they leave, a little part of you leaves too. And you’re blue for a day or two, until you remember that they can do it, they can do this thing you’ve been preparing them near 15 years for, they can do the college thing.
And so can you.