Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hit Submit

Foreword:  In the crazy October days leading up to the college-bound student's early decision application deadline, there is little time to think about what lies ahead. That's what November is for.  

I've reposted our experience, because it's as true today as it was two years ago:  October is about the trip to the post office. November is about everything else.

Our son, Sam, has applied early decision to Elon. “We” have not applied early decision to Elon, as I recently heard myself say, like couples who say, "we're pregnant."

Sam has applied early decision to Elon. We haven’t.

But we’re hoping we get in.

The good thing about the abbreviated, early decision application timeline – a semi-frantic period that squeezes September and swallows October whole, and requires the ED applicant to gather transcripts, sit for the last SAT, line up letters of recommendation and craft the most significant experience of their seventeen years into (all hail) The Essay – is that there is little time to think about what comes next, which is November. 

That is not what October is for.
October is about getting ready for college while the month passes at double the speed of any other, until the only thing left to do is hit “submit” and heave a huge sigh of relief.  It is not about shorter grocery lists, or empty laundry hampers, or the day ten months from now, when you will hug your ED applicant goodbye, go to the airport, and sit at the gate where you will point to the child of stranger-parents and say, "Sure, now they're having tantrums and spilling juice on my suitcase, but blink and you'll be dropping them off at college."

No, October is about nagging and follow through, setting up tutors, waiting for scores, reading and editing the resume. It is about saying at least once a week, “If I have to bug you to (tedious task here), what will happen when I’m not there to bug you?” as if the ED Applicant will lose your contact information right after you hug him goodbye and go to the airport, where a teenager sitting next to you will look so much like your ED applicant, you'll want to give him money for lunch and ask him if he’s okay on gas. 

October gets you ready for college.

November gets you ready for the airport. 

November is for musing over the path that has led you here, where you have learned that, flawed as it turns out you each are, you are perfect in the roles you occupy for each other. 

November is for the moments when, on your own, in the breezy dark, you look into the sky and say to God, “If you keep him safe next year, I will never, ever drive in the left lane again.”  

November is for letting your eyes rest on your ED applicant’s face a little longer than necessary, maybe even to the point where he says, “What? What’s wrong? What are you doing? Is there something on my face?” while you smile and say, “Of course not, you’re wonderful,” and finish memorizing the moment. 

November is for making very sure that the next nine months are like the ones before you met your ED applicant- joyful and not stressful, full of trepidation and anticipation, both. November is for making sure that every conversation, even the candid, not-so-nice ones, are valued because they all reflect the honesty of your relationship.
“So, tonight, we hit submit,” I said to Sam over lunch at Uno’s recently.
He looked startled.
“It’s done,” I said.
“I should look at it one more time,” he said.
“You can if you want.”
“There might be something missing,” he said.
“There’s nothing missing,” I said.
There was a beat. A blink.
“You’re ready,” I said.
He nodded. “You’re right,” he said, “I am.”

There was a time last year when I felt, but tried not to show, impatience with parents who anticipated the absence of their college-bound children with melancholy. I almost said, but didn’t, how unfair it is to complicate a teenager’s already mixed feelings about separating with worry over how their parents are handling it.  

Something stopped me from being that snarky, maybe it was God (who has pulled me back to the curb more than once) but more likely, it had something to do with Octobers past, and Novembers future and what happens to us in airports. 

We’re ready. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Before and after the times of your life

My twenties
Foreword:   If you blog with regularity like I do, sooner or later you'll talk about "before" parts of your life which weren't the times you're fondest of.  One great thing about "after", which is now, is that you don't care because you have a point to make.  

Late in the fall of his freshman year,  our son Sam said to me: "I am already almost halfway through twenty-five percent of what everyone says are the best years of my life that I'm going to have. That freaks me out."

I know the feeling.

Every so often, usually in connection with a milestone, or major family event, or a big birthday, I wake up and think,  "What? Over already?"

It's a melancholy little pothole to find yourself in,  brooding over all that has happened and what has gone by.

When I am completely on my own nerves, I come around to this: I am not just okay with what has happened already, I am better off  because of what is over, like my twenties, one of those other times of life that people tell you are your best. I think not.

Youth isn't free.

If I looked better and needed less sleep to be nice, I also worried constantly about the impression I made on people, how respected I was, how I was regarded  at work, and whether I would ever stop feeling competitive with "er" people -  the smarter, prettier, richer, funnier ones - enough to forge a real friendship with them.    

I was a salad of insecurities.

In my twenties, I wore great clothes and turned heads. I was also divorced after eighteen months and  wondered how I would ever love one person for the rest of my life.  How I would ever learn to talk to children, who I found frightening. Why my nemesis, Katie-in-Benefits, was able to endear herself to the senior management without wearing perfume and tossing her hair around. Members of senior management asked Katie to meetings. They asked me out for drinks.

People in young and transitional years  can't imagine themselves or their lives as different, much less better. When I was in my young and transitional years,  I couldn't either. I imagined  life would always be a roller coaster of up and down days, with moods that came and went like weather, and hoped I'd just learn to keep up.  The future was shapeless and murky, but the present was no bargain either.  I had the opposite, traumatic thought:  These? These are the times of my life?

Had a future me been able to appear at the side of salad me on one of those daunting, misty pre-dawn mornings when I worried about what I would worry about later,  I would have said : Take heart. Some people invest for a long time before they see a return.   

I reminded Sam last year that the times of a person's life don't happen the same way or at the same time for everyone. And I reminded him of  the things that wait - college, career, relationships, friends, travel - all times that he is "before" right now, but which only look like "after" to a person who is not yet twenty and is, yes, having the time of his life - to date.

If this sounds like the tired, I'd-rather-be happy-than-young rationale it isn't. That just sounds mournful and desperate to me. In my book, if the last couple of decades are any indication, anything worth doing gets better with time, not age.


Every relationship means something to me 
I have friends I cherish for the times of life we've shared
I attune to children - young and grown - as easily as I breathe
I have discovered beauty and resilience in marriage like a secret room in the house.
Happiness feels earned and deserved and not serendipitous.
Fear and worry come with revelations in the middle, like expensive candy

There is a choice to make on those days when you wake up and think "Already?"  Freak out over what's over, or, focus on what waits.

I have plans, big plans. And I know this:

Before I published my first novel, and thought I never would, and kept trying...
Before we moved to Boston to experience  urban life...
Before we started renting an ocean home each August for family drop-ins...
Before our last child graduated college....
Before the rest of our children fell in love and got married...
Before our first grandchild was born...
Before I celebrated dozens more life milestones with my closest friends...

It was now.