Sharing the concluding paragraph of Caitlin Flanagan’s recent NY Times piece about dropping her sons off at college feels like it needs a spoiler alert. So if you’re really interested in the article, please read it first and then come back for my message. But for the rest of you, here’s the snippet:
“I had only one moment of the kind of reckoning I’d been dreading all summer, or perhaps for the past 18 years. We’d dropped the first son off in Ohio, the second in New York, and I’d stayed around for a couple of extra days in case I was needed (I wasn’t). On my last day, I met him at a coffee shop near his dorm. We sat in the sunshine with cold drinks, and he seemed to me impossibly young to be left there — as young, I’m certain, as I must have seemed to my own parents in 1979. And then it was time to go to the airport. I hailed a cab, and my son heaved my suitcase into the trunk. I hugged him one last time, as quickly as possible, and got in the cab. And then I watched him disappear into a jostling New York crowd, headed in the general direction of his memory foam mattress topper and his new life.”
I’ll admit it—my kids are both under three, but that paragraph still got to me. Someday, that’s going to be us, my wife and I dropping each of our boys off at college. As long as they’re happy and excited about where they’re going, I’m certain we won’t care at all whether or not the schools are famous. But as celebratory as it’ll be for them, I’m guessing that moment when they each walk off into their new lives will be bittersweet for us.
Parents, no matter where you are in the college process, someday, that’s going to be you dropping your kids off and saying goodbye. Someday, the SATs and the applications and the consternation around choosing Calculus or Advanced Placement Statistics will all be over, and they’ll wave goodbye to start their new lives in college.
Knowing that it’s going to be you someday, what do you want the days, weeks, months, and years that precede that moment to look like? When that big day comes, what will be important to you to say about the time that led up to it, when they searched and applied and chose the place they’ll call home for the next four years, all while they were still eating at your dinner table and sleeping in their room down the hall?
Regular readers likely know what I’d prescribe, and even more likely, what I’d rally against. But no matter what your answer, make the choice. Decide today what you want that path to look like.
Your family deserves more than to focus only on the destination at the expense of the journey. And it’s a more compelling exercise to be thoughtful about that path when you know that no matter what you do, that day is coming. It’s going to be you someday.