Our son, Sam, has applied early decision to college. “We” have not applied early decision to college, as I recently heard myself say, like couples who say, “we’re pregnant.”
Sam has applied early decision to college. 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 early decision 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 “submit” the college application 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.
This originally appeared in The Washington Post.