I Want My Son to Go Back to College But I’m So Afraid

I’m so damn torn up about the next academic year. I’ve been flailing in the wind struggling with indecision nearly giving myself whiplash. 

I desperately want my son, a rising college sophomore, to go back to college. He and I both need him to. Living here together is fine, no harsh drama, no tales of woe but this is not what either of us dreamed of. 

mom kissing teen son on cheek
I’m torn up about the next academic year. (@sweetbabygirl143 via Twenty20)

Remote learning is fine, but we both want him back on campus

And remote learning may have been a copacetic way to end last year but there is no one who can convince me that remote learning beats the real thing-kids together in classrooms and on campus and professors standing at the head of that classroom. Nothing beats teachers who are available to meet with their students in-person and kids who can do their work with all the support that in-person instruction offers. 

But if all learning becomes remote, is being on campus a valuable experience in and of itself? And what of tuition, do the dollars spent make sense?

We got a lengthy, full-throated report on what my son’s college is doing next year and it’s really thoughtful. His school is following a plan whereby kids are going to travel in a cohort. If you share a bathroom with someone you are tied to them. If one kid in the cohort is quarantined, all will be.

Many of my friends also have college-age kids and I’ve heard a multitude of different scenarios on the ways schools plan to open safely. Some schools are testing dorm wastewater. Some are keeping kids in single rooms; others are only serving meals-to-go from the cafeteria and others are requiring students to use OpenTable to reserve a table at the cafeteria.

There are so many different opening plans

It seems that there are almost as many plans as there are schools. Schools have emptied out certain dorms so that they can serve as Covid dorms in the event that kids get sick, which they surely will. And there will be rules and masks and lots of testing. 

We parents greet each other with, “What are you going to do?” And we all know that that question is code for, “Is your child going back to school in the fall?” The overlay of pandemic on normal life has made everything intensely complicated. How’s that for an understatement? 

Is it any wonder that lately I have been vacillating wildly?

One minute I read about the modular housing that my son’s school is building, and I think that perhaps this experience is going to be so unique that it will become a special and treasured memory for these kids. The college classes who travel this road together will bond in a way none of us are familiar with. I think of them thirty years hence meeting up at their reunion remembering the year 2020/2021 and not just in the mundane, humdrum way I remember 1985. 

And then the pendulum swings back wildly again. Of course I want him to go back, but more than that I don’t want him to get sick. 

Am I attempting to romanticize something that may end up being a complete disaster? I’m terrified that the reality of their experience will be far darker than my silly glorified conception of it. And if he gets sick, and I can’t get to him…well that’s the stuff of my nightmares lately.

Life needs to move forward

We all need to get on with our lives-mine forward in one direction, his in another-hopefully always keeping each other in view but on separate paths. But, the push to send him is as powerful as the pull to keep him right here where he is, away from traumatic experiences and possibly illness. 

Then I wonder if perhaps we are not made of sterner stuff. His grandfather was in basic training in the United States Army at his age and his other three grandparents were hiding from the Nazis. Surely, he can go back to college.

I haven’t had many impossible decisions in my life. I haven’t often yearned for a soothsayer with a crystal ball to tell me which path to take. My decisions have blessedly been mostly between good and better or fine and different, but never before have they been between the impossible and the inconceivable. 

This decision is heavy and luckily not mine to make alone. A reasonable person could go either way and not be wrong. 

What is the “right” call here? Is there one at all?

You Might Also Want to Read:

17 Things to Take Care of Before Your Teen Goes to College Here are the practical items that will be much easier if you take care of them before your teen leaves for college.

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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