When people tell you that life flashes by in an instant they aren’t kidding. All the times you are positive you will never forget you really do. It’s when your child says “I love you mommy” for the first time. The small moments, the hugs and temper tantrums, shopping trips and visits to McDonald’s where nothing momentous happens but your little girl eats a French fry for the first time and loves it. Now that I am facing the departure of my youngest child for college, much too soon after her older brother I am desperately trying to recall those small moments again but alas the only chance I may have is to find a long forgotten photograph that may jerk my memory alive for a brief journey into the past.
My generation has approached our children differently than our parents. Recently, my mother reminded me that she was just one year older than I am now when she became a grandmother. Even the thought of that frightens me. I’m not ready, my husband isn’t ready and for sure my kids aren’t ready but in my mother’s generation getting married right out of college and then having a baby was a very normal thing to do. Today our kids are more privileged than we were, not just from a financial standpoint but in terms of their life experience. When I left for college in 1976, I was basically on my own. At 17 my parents gave me $25 a month for expenses and before my scholarship; tuition, room and board was $1500 a year at a New York State University. When I wanted to transfer to a private school my sophomore year my father explained that I would need to work and take out to loans to pay for it and I did. It was not what I wanted for my children.
Last year my son left for college and while I missed him I was excited that he was getting to do just what he wanted in a place that he really wanted to be. He was truly happy. A friend of mine went to visit him and happily reported that when she was with him kids kept stopping by to say hello, that he was well-known for the right reasons all across campus. He joined a fraternity, something my husband and I dreaded. You see we grew up watching “Animal House” and that’s what we envisioned. When he finally allowed us to come and visit I asked to see the frat house and he had no qualms about showing it to me. Instead of the ramshackle building I was expecting, what stood in front of me was a lovely brick structure with a manicured lawn and landscaping. An antique fire truck adorned the front lawn. Inside was a group of fairly clean-cut looking young men who introduced themselves to me without prompting and even volunteered to show me their rooms if I wanted to see what one looked like. After we left my husband looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, we had expected the worst and were pleasantly surprised. It was also eye-opening to witness our son in his own environment, one that we’re not really a part of. This was now his world and we were fortunate that he invited us in as his guests. I now understand that this is a stage of evolution. He will always be our child but now he is his own person with his own immediate world.
The classes that he has to choose from come in the form of a 300 course catalogue. No longer is it a choice between psychology and sociology. There are many layers to explore and college students today can really expand their horizons while still fulfilling the basic core requirements. How wonderful these choices are for minds that for the first time can really make their own educational decisions.
The opportunities afforded today’s college students don’t stop with course selections. It sounds a bit cliché to say that the possibilities are endless but it is really true. Study abroad programs, internships, volunteer opportunities are there for the asking. This summer my son chose to spend 7 weeks studying in Luxembourg. Luxembourg? I barely remembered it was country! What he seems to have gotten out of this experience could never be duplicated in a classroom alone. He went to a foreign country basically knowing no one and has traveled all over Europe (attending classes some of the time I hope) with these kids experiencing things I’ve only read about in travel journals. It is a dream that I’ve always had and never realized. I am ever so grateful to have provided this opportunity for my son. His experience has not been without some trial. He was certainly not expecting to be pick pocketed in Cannes and loose $600 in cash along with all his ID and credit cards. He was hoping to really bond with his host family, but unfortunately did not. He later moved to another home where he was welcomed with open arms. My little boy has now become part of another family halfway around the world. Soon he will come home not the boy he was a year ago but a self-assured world traveler grateful for the life he has been able to enjoy.
He will work hard this summer knowing that it’s his responsibility to make some of his spending money for next year. He is again fortunate that he has a summer job he loves for people that love and value him for the person he is.
For the next two weeks we will be alone in our house without the noise of teenagers flying through at all hours of the day and night. I enjoy the peace and quiet but I sadly miss the excitement that has always been part of our home from the time the kids were little. I still will have one more year of teenage drama this time from a group of girls. It’s a very different type of drama than that of the boys. The girls will actually talk to me about their problems (sometimes) which boy they like and who is being mean to whom. My daughter is one of those lucky people who have had the same friends since pre-school. New ones come into the circle and some leave for a short time and eventually return. I have come to love these girls and feel honored when they let me come on one of their shopping trips or even to a movie with them. I will miss them when they go away and will always welcome them back into our house when they come home.
The funny thing is how we all judge age. Wasn’t I just the 20 my son will be on his next birthday? My mother was just 50, how can she be celebrating her 70th birthday? It doesn’t make sense to me, I still feel like “the kid” I was when I started my first job and before I know it I’ll be 50. Impossible!!! How can I be married almost 25 years to the same person? We don’t plan out all these moments in life, they just happen. The only advice I can give to anyone who asks is to savor them, record them so when you’re 80 you will still be able to recall them and bring them alive once more.
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