The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning
Last weekend my husband and I took our youngest daughter to visit Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. She spent the fall semester of her senior year applying to colleges that she had researched and identified as places that she would like to apply.
Two years earlier, our entire family took a 10-day road trip through the Midwest to visit colleges with our middle daughter, so we had already visited several places. On that long drive through cornfields, we didn’t visit Hendrix. Being only four hours away, it was in our backyard, so to speak and our oldest daughter hadn’t applied there. So Hendrix was sort of our first and last visit. She loved it (so, Mr. Admissions Counselor, you could always throw some more money our way!). I’m not sure where our last daughter will end up, but I do know it won’t be at home.
Having no children in our house next year will be a big change for me and my husband. And I’ll be sad to see my youngest go off to school. Having been through it twice before doesn’t make it any easier. What does make it easier is that when things go well at school and my kids are happy, then I’m happy, too. Fortunately, facebook (yes, I’m friends with my two kids who live away from home), email, cell phones and skype make keeping in touch very easy.
What isn’t easy is being far away when one of your children is hurting. My daughter at Knox College had a health scare in the fall. It was so horrifying for me that I’m just now able to write about it. But even now, I have a sick feeling in my stomach as I think about it. She hadn’t been feeling well, so she went to the doctor and he said she might have a condition that could be life-threatening. You can imagine her phone call to me after that visit. I tried to be confident. I told her to stop looking up symptoms on Webmd. I told her that 99 percent of the time, things were not serious.
As I was saying these things, in my mind I was trying to decide whether or not to get on a plane immediately, or just start driving the 9 hours it would take to get there, or wait for more news. I also didn’t know whether to mail the birthday gift I had gotten her because I didn’t know if she would get it, or if I would be going to be with her. I decided to mail it anyway, believing that by doing so, everything would be fine. As I put the package in the drop at the post office, I knew it was just a way of trying to convince myself that I could somehow control the Universe. I knew deep down that I couldn’t. Fortunately, her illness turned out to be nothing serious, and I felt I had gotten a break that time. But it reminded me that there would be other times and other crises and, in those moments, being a parent is the most difficult and horrifying job on earth. But the moments of sheer joy make it worthwhile.
It hit me that change, unbearable pain and ecstatic happiness are all part of being a parent. One of my friends who just had her first baby was telling me about taking him in for his very first vaccines. She described how much it hurt her to watch the needle go into his chubby thigh, and she hoped he didn’t think she was causing him that pain.
I ran into another friend when I was walking my dog this week. We have kids the same age, so we always catch up when we see each other. She said one of her kids was going to school, working and smoking too much pot. I still think of that child as a first grader. There’s just no way to predict how things will go with kids. Unfortunately, there’s no recipe to follow with human beings. Even though I’m the editor of a magazine that gives parents lots of advice, I would be a liar if I said there was a way to guarantee a certain outcome with kids. Loving them unconditionally is a good start, though.
I can’t believe that my youngest child is 18.