Parenting is a constant challenge. From the earliest moments when the baby thinks you know what he or she needs and you don’t until the moment they head off to college (and beyond), you draw on instinct, nerve and worry. Kids push buttons, they remind you of you at your worst moments and they need, demand even, to be seen and appreciated on their own. Ultimately, I assume my job is to help my kids find their way to adulthood. Now that they are teenagers, this means not solving some problems. Every once in a while, this can lead to real frustration.
My oldest son is in the process of applying to college. A few months ago, he decided to apply early decision to Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. “Early decision” means that he commits to attend Muhlenberg if the college accepts him. I did not know much (if anything) about Muhlenberg when he started this process. Emerson’s primary interest is in theatre. Muhlenberg, it turns out, has a great drama program that fits comfortably in a traditional small liberal arts college. For my son, it seems to be just right. The best part is that he really made the decision that it is where he wants to go.
In addition to letting him decide, I have worked hard to stay out of the application process. He read me part of his essay, but I don’t really know what it says. He dealt with his teachers to obtain recommendations, and he has navigated the electronic wonder of the modern application process. He does it all so fast that it is impossible for me to understand, watching him, what it is that he has done. My role is simply to enter my debit card information to cover the fees associated with applying ($61 so far). The other thing that I get to do is wait.
Here’s the challenge I mentioned at the start of this piece. Last night, I asked him to check on the status of the application and it turned out that there was a little piece missing. The missing piece is inconsequential. We fixed it in seconds. But today I find myself worrying about the “we” part of this. My own worry and engagement lead me to push him to double check to make sure things were all where they should be. I wonder if I should have (instead) continued to leave him alone to face the application process. Would it have been better for him to get to the point where he wondered (on his own) about where he stood and (on his own) checked to see?
I don’t think so. In the end, we want our kids to be able to function as adults, but we also want them to know that we are here for them. Part of being here means paying attention to pitfalls that our experience teaches us are lurking — like not remembering to double check that everything is where you think it is. I hope, without knowing, that last night will lead Emerson to check his work more often and to do so in a way that improves its quality and thoroughness. More importantly, right now, I trust that we have put Muhlenberg in a position where it can make a decision about my son.
Here’s the best part. After the high drama of finding this mistake, we all had dinner together. It was one of those meals where everyone at the table managed to find a story about someone else that made them laugh. At one point, Andrew (14) laughed so hard that he spat his drink across the table and hit Emerson square on. Malcolm (also 14) had almost lost a drink in similar fashion moments before. And it’s that laughter and safety that mark the place where each of us is always welcome, whether or not we have all of our papers in order.
January 25, 2013 — Emerson was admitted to Muhlenberg. Funny how, so often, things work themselves out.