As I’ve previously shared, my older daughter, C, started classes at the nearby community college last fall, a decision that was all hers. She made the decision the summer in advance of her senior year while bouncing around the hills of Mongolia. Despite varied options and a persuasive visit from a college recruiter during her senior year, she followed her heart and showed great maturity when she decided community college would ease the transition from homeschooler to college student.
We hadn’t taken the increasingly popular road of “concurrent enrollment”, starting college classes during the high school years. For her senior year, she decided to stay the course with me and the “one day” school she had participated in on and off for years and leave the college coursework for her college years. On occasion, she voiced her doubts; “Am I going to end up behind? All my friends are already taking college classes. What if I can’t get a good job because they’re all taken by the time I get out?”
“No need to rush,” I reassured her. “You’ve shown me you know how to make good decisions. Trust your gut and enjoy your senior year. Coast a little, you’ve earned it.” (Not that she ever really coasted; I don’t think she knows how.)
Nonetheless, I was not-so secretly pleased when I heard I’d get a front row seat to watch her launch into the next chapter (even if I wasn’t her motivation for staying local.) I would share another year with my first-born; a decision that, despite her demonstrated ability to make good choices, brought relief. But, not for the predictable and often anticipated fears like drinking, drugs, and other
stupid common, regretful mistakes of youth. As the woman who felt solely responsible for her schooling, I claimed any gaps in her education as mine. No one else’s. Mine. And, if gaps appeared in her study skills, essay abilities, or world history, I’d need be there to fill them while she was still under my roof. (Have I mentioned my melodramatic side before?)
As much as I wish we had another 5 years to cover all the literature I’d wanted to share, I’ve accepted she’s no longer my student. As much as I wish I could go back and undo some of the pitfalls of my homeschooling (like not pushing her harder in math, despite her natural tendencies toward an English major), she’s no longer my student. As much as I wish she had experienced more “classroom competition”, she’s no longer my student and these things cannot be undone. On some level, I anticipated these regrets. I knew there would be a long list of books left unread and a “hindsight awareness” of mistakes I made during our 12 years of homeschooling together. But, wishes don’t turn back the clock, so I focused my eyes forward.
Last summer flew by but by the time fall arrived I thought we were ready for this year. I thought my research about the college years and the transition to the “empty nest years” had prepared me. Though not without its bumps, I thought our relationship was solid and secure. I thought her demonstrated maturity had prepared me to allow her to transition to next step with ease and grace. I thought.
Perhaps, I thought too much…or not enough. Honestly, it’s been a bumpier transition than I had anticipated. One day I’m her mom and her teacher, doling out chores and curfews along with essays, literature lists, and science assignments. The next I’m just mom, writing a tuition check and failing (miserably) at keeping my mouth shut. I’m certain there’s less turbulence found in the airspace over the Rocky Mountains than in my kitchen of late. Little did I know I should have installed a “fasten seatbelt” sign before her first semester’s registration was complete.
I lived at home while attending the local university. (In those days, there were no requirements about living on campus the first year of school as is popular among schools today.) I either took the bus or carpooled with one of my siblings every day. I waited tables to pay for my tuition and books while abiding by the house rule of “free room and board so long as I was a serious student”, meaning C’s or better, with an emphasis on the “better”. My father reviewed my grades every semester. He counseled me on class selections, helped me develop my writing skills by reviewing my papers, and guided me back on track when my grades slipped. He also gave each of his children the same advice: “For every hour in class, you should study two hours outside of class.” Secretly, my siblings and I mocked and bemoaned his directive. Many years passed before any of us garnered the courage to tease him about the unrealistic “math” of that equation, especially since most of us took 15-18 units per semester while working to pay for our educations! Above all, he was well-intentioned, wanting to help each of us to succeed. And in the way most parents help, my parents regularly offered the (often hard knocks) wisdom they had gathered along life’s journey. Advice that was not always welcomed.
It’s taken a bit of memory jarring, usually provided by my sister, but I now recall how I often rebelled and rejected my parents’ offerings of wisdom and help. Their rules and guidance felt restrictive and antiquated when I thought I was “old enough to make all my own decisions.” I wasn’t a bad kid, but spirited I was and, like most teens, I often chomped at the bit for the “freedoms” I thought came upon high school graduation. Then reality hit. There were two roads ahead: school (read: work and responsibility) or work (read: work and responsibility). Those were the “freedoms” granted me upon graduation because lounging on the couch doing nothing wasn’t an option. Nor is it for my children.
Those are hard to swallow
responsibilities “freedoms” when you’re barely an adult, just out of high school and convinced the college themed movies are what life will look like. Rarely, does life imitate the movies, for student or parent.
Now, almost a year out of high school, I know those responsibilities can still feel hard for C to swallow. But, as a parent, it’s my job to raise a responsible adult, not enable a couch potato.
Truth is, C’s a hard worker, independent of my nagging. She made “Dean’s List” her first semester and was invited into an honor’s society. She’s carried a heavier load this semester and she’s on track to pull out equally good grades. She’s a good student. She’s conscientious and self-disciplined. Most of the time. After all, at only 19, she’s still young.
Another truth is, I’ve nagged. A lot. More than I should’ve. More than I’ve needed to. It can be hard to keep my mouth shut when I think she’s not studying enough, or staying up too late, or…. and it’s caused a lot of turbulence around here. More often than not, it’s “mama fear” stemmed from irrational worries. But, it’s also “mama love” in the same way my father loved me when he spent hours pouring over a course catalog helping me select classes. I hated it then; I value it now. He helped me prepare for life, and he prepared me to help my daughters. Perhaps one day, my daughters will feel the same.
C will be going away next year. She’ll be attending the school that recruited her, her top pick, and the only one she was interested in leaving home for. It’s a small, private, all women’s college. She’ll be 12 hours away. She’ll not have me peeking in on her at night to see if she’s studying or wasting time texting with a friend. She’ll stay out late, eat more junk food than she should, cram for a test at the last minute, make friends that lift her up when she falls, and discover new depths to her strength. She’ll come home to visit at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but spend spring break abroad, not at home. All life experiences that’ll be good for her. And me.
She’s ready for this next transition. And I am, too.
That’s the thing about transitions. You can read and research and ask all the mentors you can find but still flounder when the time comes because you can’t fully prepare the heart. A heart doesn’t respond like a brain. It doesn’t think about her maturity and proven decision making. It thinks about the baby you once held, and the little girl who cried over a lost friend, the joy over a first date, or the last glance as she walked through airport security that first time alone.
The thing I’ve learned about transitions this year is that, despite preparations, there’s more heart than brain involved when you open your hands and say “Fly”, and they do.
When was the last time you experienced more heart than brain, and how did you handle it?