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Challenge: Back to School

Four Year College Isn’t The Only Road

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I’m not really sure how to start this…but he isn’t going back. This is our story – a mom and son – not anyone else’s – but unlike those super-happy, glowing Christmas letters you get every holiday season, this is the REAL deal.

This is the weekend…the weekend that everyone’s college-aged kids head off to new adventures at the college of their dreams – nervous, excited, but ready. Ok, most aren’t really ready but they sure think they are.

Moms and Dads are lugging multiple car-loads of bedding, clothes, desk supplies, mini-refrigerators, gaming systems (really!), room decorations and a few mementos from home to college cities and towns around the country.

We did that…last year. We thought we did everything right!

We talked to the roommate in advance (boys don’t coordinate bedding but we had to know who would bring the big screened tv – hey, maybe it was the tv’s fault!).

We bought everything in one big, incredibly systematic shopping spree at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

We had all of the pre-requisite discussions about going to class, meeting new people, fraternity parties, girls, “No” means “No”, eating outside of the Pop Tarts food group, oh, and more conversations about going to class.

We left him after lunch to head home, while he went off to an orientation event.

I cried. I sat in my car and hoped – “Please let him be happy and successful!”

He did a jig. He sat on his new, fake leather desk chair and thought, “Free at last!”

Fast forward through fraternity rush, coursework, football rivalries, dropped courses he should have never been told to take, an on-campus job, sleep (lots of sleeping), new coursework, some good friends, lots of reassurances of “Yeah, Mom, everything is great!”, a serious medication mix-up at the pharmacy, a shoplifting charge from a crazy stunt, less coursework, some smoking, booze, more sleeping…

In May, he sat tired, depressed, defeated and ashamed in my office and said, “I’m not going back.”

My heart was broken – for him. And for me. It’s hard to have expectations and then, move them around a bunch – like driving to your favorite diner and realizing, when you are a few miles away, that they are closed – or you just don’t want to go there anymore.

I went into what he called, “Repair Mother-mode”! Scheduled doctors appointments, sessions with a counselor, fussed and fretted, furiously organized all of the crap that came home with him! I have a doctorate in child & adolescent psychology, for God’s sake. I CAN FIX THIS!

They’d take him back – because we’d pay – but he won’t go back.

I CAN’T FIX THIS. Only he can decide what’s broken…what’s worth fixing…what isn’t.

I am proud that he is smart enough to know that he isn’t ready to go back – well, I am trying to be.

I want him to be healthy.

I want him to want it.

And I want him (and others) to know a couple more things…

  • If you are struggling, it is OK to ask for help! Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness but a SIGN of strength - of personal insight - of courage!
  • The paths taken by your parents, your best friends in High School, your neighbor’s nephew ARE NOT YOUR PATH. You get to make your own path!
  • Everyone’s path is full of potholes – even if they make it look incredibly easy! Living is hard. Living a life on your own terms is the hardest thing you may ever do!
  • And parents love their kids (usually), no matter what path they choose. Retail sales clerk, engineer, 4-year college, community college, Peace Corps, manual labor – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you DO SOMETHING to improve the world – yours and others!

So he is taking a different route – I am so grateful that he is still on the road, honestly.

He is going to Community College this fall. Maybe he’ll transfer one day – maybe he’ll go to work – or move to India.

He won’t know anyone. There are no fraternities. No football rivalries. Still lots of coursework. There will still be sleeping, crazy stunts, booze, and more reassurances, I guess.

It is so hard, as a parent, to let go of hopes, dreams, and the “X College Mom” t-shirt. Can’t it just be easy? Lot’s of parents on social media sure do a great job of making it look like a piece of gourmet chocolate cake!

But we all have to let go and watch from the sidelines. “Repair Mother-mode” is a short-term fix for something that your child might not even consider broken.

Look for the blessings! Keep your eyes out for the potholes! But pay more attention to the quality of your kid’s character. At the end of the day, that is the work of parenting.

I don’t know what else to do except to hold him in my heart – as he gets his feet back on the ground – and keep hoping!

Be Wise!

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