It is the golden carrot we have dangled in motivational fervor for our kids and ourselves since conception propelling us to achieve the unattainable security of a future unscathed and paved with prosperity. It was the reason for the in-vitro Mozart jam sessions, the flashcards at 18 months, the Suzuki violin lessons at age 3, the meticulously vetted Pre-K decision, the insistence on that first grade teacher rather than the other one, the phone call to the 6th grade science teacher about that B on that test, the hard-won debate about why 9th grade honors English IS a good fit, the backseat driving for that community service project, and the editorial "assistance" on that application essay. College is the holy grail whose elusive acquisition overshadows the original reason for going there in the first place.
I went to college. I liked college. I learned a lot from college. But as the mother of a junior I find this mantra keeps presenting itself to me: Fuck College.
Do I want my kid to go?
Do I want him to suffer the pressure, stress, shame, anxiety and mania which feels intensely prevalent in the process these days?
And the good news is, he does not feel that. The pathetic news is, my husband and I do.
Not because we expect our kid will go to Yale or Stanford or Oxford; not because we expect him to win the nobel prize, not even because we want to brag about it to our vast network of friends we have lost touch with because we've been too busy parenting. Nope, we feel it because he says he wants it, and we want to help him get there, and we all seem to disagree on how to accomplish that.
He sees it as some far off place like Narnia or Oz; a desirable location whose entrance requirements include simple door opening, curiosity or the luck of being near a tornado at the right time. And the urgency of arriving at said fantastical yet totally attainable Eden is eclipsed by the release of the next new history making limited edition pair of Jordans. His response, as is the response to all distant deadlines, "Don't worry Mom, I got this," delivered with a confidence which makes me believe he has turned a corner in his maturity, but is later revealed as a deceptively Oscar-worthy piece of acting.
My husband believes in teenager #1's potential absolutely. And, because of that faith he, admirably, suggests, and encourages, and suggests some more, and makes pacts, and suggests again, and puts down his foot, and threatens summer school, and suggests one more time, and gives up, but not really, because he knows how to help if only teenager #1 would let him help, so he suggests one last time, which turns out to be the proverbial straw for the overburdened camel.
And me, well, I'll try anything. I do what husband does too and help too much. I also do what teenager #1 does and live for days, weeks, months at a time in denial. I also make a lot of food to feed the beast. I also search desperately for moments of calm to introduce potentially controversial subjects like GPA or coming up with a list of colleges, or SAT prep. I also devise alternate plans in my head for the future which often includes a time machine sending me to the future so I can skip over all of this Bullshit.
And then there are moments of alarming clarity for husband and me. Moments when we realize that college is not, in fact, the holy grail. It is not a lifetime warranty guaranteeing success, prosperity and happiness. It is the road more travelled, for certain; a well-paved road with a high success rate, But it is just one route. There are so many others. Some of those other routes actually lead to college in a different way. Some of them lead to trade schools for jobs which will, most likely, never be erased by digital advancement; you know like cooking, cutting hair, fixing a car, fixing a clogged drain. Jobs we rely on and pay dearly for because they insure convenience. And some other routes lead to the opportunity to make a new path. How Robert Frost-ian. And, just like that, College's death-grip is relieved. It becomes just another in an infinite list of choices.
Bearing that in mind, I will amend my previous hostility with my own personal College Serenity Prayer
There are no mistakes, only opportunities
I cannot control the future
My self worth is not defined by the stickers on the rear window of my car
My child's life is his to discover
An SAT score only measures how well you take the SATS
My children WILL eventually move out of the house
Life is what you make of it
Eggs and bacon at 10pm can cure all ills
Panic is not our friend