Over the past few weeks, the conversation in our house has been increasingly dominated by college talk: dorm room décor, roommate questions, class schedules, transportation concerns, the fear of homesickness, breakfast choices in the dining hall — if it pertains to college, we’ve covered it. Daily. The anxiety is here, and it’s real.
The only thing is, my daughter is still in high school.
In her defense, she’s weeks away from starting her senior year and is feeling the pressures of starting the college admissions process, big time. Besides the big question of where she’ll end up (not to mention where she’ll even apply), she’s starting to question the dreams she’s had for herself for the past four years and is now considering an entirely different kind of degree. Throw in some serious concerns about leaving home and sprinkle in a double dose of fear of rejection (she has to audition for BFA programs, which are ridiculously competitive), and you’ve got a recipe that would make even Gordon Ramsay nervous.
I wish I could make all the worry go away, but as all of us parents know too well, I can’t. These feelings and anxieties are valid, and feeling them is part of growing up. What I can do is listen, try my hardest not to add my own anxieties to hers, and, of course, write her a letter.
Dear Daughter who is already freaking out about college,
I know you’re scared.
I am, too.
Sure, I’ve been through this whole ridiculous “going off to college” routine with your older sister, but this time it’s different because, to be honest, I’ve been in denial for the past 17 years that this moment in time would actually come. I still am. You’re the baby after all, and when you leave next year, the nest will really, truly be empty. I mean, if your sister ever moves out.
Sure, I’ll still have the aging pets that need daily medication to take care of – not to mention your father – but the thought of your sunny smile and cheerful presence not being here already terrifies me, and I don’t like it.
Shocker, I know.
It’s about you, which is exactly what I want you to keep in mind as you’re going through all the anxiety this process creates in the next few months: you.
The path you take — now at the beginning of the process, while you’re making decisions, and even over the next few years — is yours. It’s not your sister’s; it’s not your friend’s; it’s not mine or Dad’s; and it certainly isn’t the neighbor’s overachieving kid’s. Yeah, you know the one I’m talking about.
Regardless of all the solicited and unsolicited advice and opinions that are being offered from pretty much everyone who strikes up a conversation with you lately, these decisions are your own. And what’s more important, they don’t have to be permanent.
Changing your major, your classes, your roommate — hell, even your school — is all in the realm of possibility. And as much as you want to know, right now, that everything will be okay and that every decision you make will be the right one, you just can’t.
Remember when you were little and we’d go on hikes at the nature center? We’d come to a fork in the path and would have to decide which way to go. One way might take us back to the start quicker than the other one, but sometimes the other path would wind its way up into the woods before heading back: maybe meander along a quiet stream, or lead us to a beautiful overlook. Sure, that path took longer, but the treasures we found along the way were worth the extra time, weren’t they?
The path you take over the next four, five, even ten years might be a lot like that.
It might not.
You might take the straight path that gets you to where you need to be more quickly.
You might wander a bit and find things you didn’t expect.
Either way, it’s okay.
Both paths will get you to where you need to be.
And I know that the thought of navigating either path alone is something that’s worrying you right now. I get it. Traveling together is a safe feeling, and as much as the independence of forging your own way can be a thrilling idea, I know you’re anxious about leaving home.
And by home I mean me, obviously.
But let’s be real, do you really think a little thing like college is going to get rid of me? If so, I have taught you nothing, so it’s a damn good thing you’re going to college.
Listen, no matter if you’re close or far away, you’ll see me as much as you want to see me, even if it’s via Face Time when I’m on the toilet. Ask your sister who called me every morning for four years about that.
I can’t tell you to stop or postpone worrying and wondering about what will happen over the next year, and even beyond. What I can do is be right here next to you — in the flesh or on a screen — listening when you need me to and guiding you along the path you’ve chosen to forge.
But right now you don’t have to make all the decisions.
Right now you can file things like dorm room décor and if your roommate will like you and if the dining hall will have Eggo waffles in the “later” folder.
Because right now you have some serious senior year ass to kick.
So buckle up.
You’re in the driver’s seat, kid, no matter where you go.
And like you’ve reassured me a million times over the past year, you’re an excellent driver.