So those of you who are kind enough to read my Facebook posts know that my great kid is so far 9 for 9 in college acceptance letters, the enormity of which I’m not sure he realizes but which makes my heart near to bursting with pride at what he has accomplished through hard work during an incredibly difficult year for us. He’s always been a good student, a determined student but this year he seemed to redouble his efforts and took on a very tough and challenging course load at school. I think some of it is may be an unacknowledged and unarticulated need for success and validation this year, a year in which he experienced loss on a very big scale, not only watching my beloved Dad get sicker and sicker but being in the room and holding his hand as he died. I’m not sure I would have been that strong when I was 18. Heck, I know I wasn’t as strong as he was when we both went through it, as anyone who saw me during that awful week at the funeral knows first hand. But succeed he did, getting inducted into the National Honor Society just mere weeks after my Dad died and then working tirelessly at applying to colleges, while keeping us with his school work and tutoring students after classes.
I will admit, and not sheepishly at all, that in my heart of hearts I would love him to stay close to home. Rutgers is a really great school, I’ve pointed out on more than one occasions. A lot of your friends are going there. Wouldn’t that help make the transition easier, I asked? Most of my comments were meant with major eye-rolling or deep, wounded sighs but persist I did. Even as he applied to 4 colleges on the left coast, and 2 more a good 6-hour drive from home. And I’m not afraid to say that a lot of my nudging and cajoling has to do with my own insecurities and not just a little bit of fear of being on my own.
I’ve never lived on my own in my entire life, a life where there are more years behind me now than will be in front of me. I commuted locally to a very good college, lived at home until I married, and then have lived with my great kid now on our own for 12 years. What will I do when I have no one here to talk to, or run errands for, or cook for (and, yes, I sometimes cook, although not well but I do try) or get a hug from when I’m sad or missing my Dad, when I just need the person who loves me the most to tell me so.
It’s selfish, I know, to put that kind of burden on someone whose whole life is in front of them. To make them feel responsible for your happiness. So I’ve tried to be more supportive, even visiting a few of these far-flung schools and liked them more than I would have expected. But still, Rutgers is a good school. What’s so wrong with New Jersey, I asked him?
Over this Christmas holiday, rather impulsively, we decided to go to the left coast version of the happiest place on earth for a few days. It had been a tough Christmas, one with new traditions and new events and wonderful people supporting us as we got through it, with a gaping hole where my Dad should be. So we thought, let’s go have some fun, let’s be silly, let’s just live out a dream for a few days. And we did and it was uplifting and fun and crazy and probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us. But on New Year’s Day, we were sitting and talking about college and I didn’t want to go down the Rutgers is Great road again so I asked him, Why do you want to go to these colleges so far away? What is it that I’m missing?
And he said words that shook me to the core. I don’t want to be George Bailey, he said. I don’t want to look back years from now and think of what I missed because I was afraid to try something new, afraid to spread my wings and leave the security of my home. I don’t want to have regrets because I didn’t reach for the moon. I need to get out of New Jersey. It’s suffocating me; there are too many bad memories here, too many obstacles for me. I have to do this, he said. Please support me.
What could I say? I was in awe of his ability to articulate his feelings in such a relatable way. After all, hadn’t we all just watched It’s A Wonderful Life the last few weeks and saw all that George Bailey had given up, the dreams he had put on hold? I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world, said George Bailey. And he never did. Who was I to be the roadblock to my great kid’s dreams? Living with regret is almost worse, I think, than living with failure. You can bounce back from failure; you can succeed again, or learn from your mistakes, or try anew. But you can’t turn the clock back to make a different choice. My parents never did anything but encourage me to dream big. Why would I not do the same thing for my son, and show him that I support his dreams and that time and distance and coordinating travel and managing time zones was not reason enough to not support him in his decision. It is his life, after all, and he has to live with the consequences and hopefully great outcomes of his decisions. I need to step aside and let him fly. I didn’t teach him to be a responsible and compassionate and kind kid only to tell him that I didn’t trust his instincts enough to know he’d do the right thing.
So whatever decision he makes will be OK with me. I love him enough to let him go and be the person he’s supposed to be and travel the path he’s supposed to take. I need to be like George Bailey and let him know that if he wants the moon, like Mary did, he need only tell me and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.