As my second son prepares to leave for college this week, I feel happy that he will pursue his dreams and goals at the school of his choice, and I know that on many levels, he’s more than ready to leave the nest.
He has done his best to soil that nest over the past few months.
However, I’m also filled with final-hour words of wisdom he won’t stop to hear, and the fear that 18 years of values, morals and role-modeling haven’t left their mark.
Let’s just say that although he loved the school, made great friends and grew in wonderful ways, overall it was a failed experiment, filled with a mixture of heartache, disappointments, missteps and unexpected drama. He is now transitioning in a new city, where he will get a fresh start at a different university.
So, forgive me for being a little jaded on the “it’s so exciting to head off to college” thing.
Like most kids, I was taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That we should take the quickest route home from school, a friend’s house or work. That Cliff Notes (I know, they’re called Spark Notes now) can help us get through novels faster, flash cards will prepare us for graduate-school exams, the right attitude, outfits and long hours might help us advance at work, and a two-week, guided tour of Europe will show us all the highlights we need for our photo albums.
Unfortunately, most of our parents, teachers and bosses didn’t tell us to take our time, to enjoy diversions and to smell roses along the way.
On an intellectual level, I know that the zigs and zags and bumps in my older son’s journey have made him a stronger, more grounded and better-balanced individual. The fact that he has suffered some setbacks doesn’t mean that he is a failure.
I need to remind him that Thomas Edison made something like 1,000 attempts in his route to inventing the light bulb. When a journalist asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
My kids should know that they can take as many steps as they need to find success and happiness on their own terms.
I hope they understand that when we’re in too much of a hurry to get from point A to point B, when we believe the road should be straight and flat, we miss a lot of lovely details, excitement and learning opportunities.
“Life is never a straight line, it is full of twists and turns,” writes Warren T. VanderVen (I have no idea who that is, but I like the quote). “The way to lead a happy life is not to avoid them but to embrace them; to find the happiness in them.”
And so, I shouldn’t worry about #2 son when I leave him at school next weekend.
He’ll probably love the school he chose, but then again, he may find it too small and stifling.
It’s possible he’ll chose a major he’s excited about, take stimulating classes with interesting professors, and find a job in that field. Or, he may graduate, have no clue what to do next and move back home for a few years.
He could form a close bond with his roommates, but also, they might clash over music, noise, cleanliness and overnight visitors.
He may fall in love with a classmate, experience the thrill of young love in a college setting and end up spending his life with her. However, it’s more likely that he will experience ups and downs in several relationships, and suffer a broken heart or two.
The point is, if his journey is less than straight and trouble-free, it’s okay. He will learn from his mistakes and snags and bumps and hurts.
After all, life is a marathon, not a sprint.
My hope is that both of my college-age boys – as well as my younger kids — will realize that the unexpected turns, the distractions and the diversions could be as important as their perceived, immediate goals.
I hope they’ll give themselves permission to embrace the zigs and zags and bumps in the road as part of life’s amazing journey.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 19 Aug. 2013
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