In the interest of fair reporting – going to go ahead and follow up last week’s post with an update on Child 1.
And, no, I don’t talk too much about that child in my blog – there are actually a few very undramatic reasons for that. One is interpretation – and being a woman, I don’t mind saying my genetic makeup can be the cause of conclusion jumping or assumption making when there are no hidden messages in my blog. As Zoe and I had quite the rough 2019, she fell into a pattern of checking out my blog sporadically and finding fault assigned to her in many written paragraphs that actually had nothing to do with her. Or, as teens do, I would type the sky is blue and her response would be personal offense because I did not understand blue. It was more important to me to preserve our, at the time, fractured relationship than risk unintended offense. Second, and very basic, Zoe is not living at home anymore. At the moment. She is away at school – without day to day interaction and with her determination to baby-adulting, there are no huge questions or concerns or moments of hilarity to share. Our time together is enjoyable, but usually abbreviated, so we sort of stick to a lot of surface level stuff with just a sprinkle of hard stuff.
So no, nothing dramatic – and yes, I do hear you when you ask don’t you have another child? or why do you only write about Zack? Nothing dramatic. The entry was already percolating strongly after the Zack’s Pandemic Academy update of last week. Because I had really dug deep into the what has he dealt with-ness of it all, I went from resolving that struggle for the 78th time to digging deep into the same questions and resolutions for Zoe. That coincided with a visit home from the college kid and a rather huge conversation on life as she’s known it for the last year and how it is sending her brain into twelve different directions with regards to next year.
Maybe, with two vaccinations on board, my brain has given some space back to the deep thoughts compartment – space that has been rented out to worrying about Covid for the last year.
Right. The College Kid. As a refresher, Zoe has never had much interest in staying local for her post high school movements. She did apply to several out of state schools and, also, at one instate and super local school. And by apply, I mean we insisted she hit the submit button on that local college, though she was kicking and screaming, just in case none of her plans worked out or the world went whonky or whatever. And, yes. None of her plans work out. The world went whonky. And, whatever. She did stay local and we have thanked the stars over and over that a sixty-minute round trip could get her home with a moment’s notice. We opted for an apartment rather than the dorm to alleviate the worry of dorms being shut down due to the pandemic – and Murphy’s Law put her apartment right in the middle of many of Richmond’s racially charges events. We have just lived by the motto of damned if we do, damned if we don’t.
We have been vaguely aware of how strangely colleges have had to operate this year. We knew that, until a few months ago, all of Zoe’s classes were via Zoom. We knew that there were no freshman activities or school social events. We knew that she couldn’t spend a Sunday afternoon huddled in a coffee shop studying with friends. But we really didn’t think too much about any of that until this week when we chatted about her plans for next year.
She has applied to two way out of state schools – like, far away schools. We are hoping and praying that one of those works out but also presented the question to her of what’s the plan if neither does? The return answer was not what we expected and touched a parental nerve, but the follow up was almost heartbreaking. The backup plan was that there really wasn’t one – other than she did not want to return to her current school, so much so that she’d rather come home and got to a community college. What?! The follow up was, in summary, yeah, I don’t really see what the big deal about college is at all…I just sit in my room and do nothing. Yes. Right. Because that’s pretty much the extent of what she’s been able to do for the last ten months. Oh. Shite.
She really did miss the whole high of freedom and new friends and shared experiences. Even the very basics of walking across the quad, hurrying to class, with throngs of other students all with the similar ambitions. There were no homecoming parades or basketball games or sunny days sitting in front of the dorm on a blanket watching the more ambitious throw frisbees over her head. No common complaints about the food at the cafeteria or classrooms full of hundreds of students sopping wet from a trek to class in the torrential downpours of Virginia. Her year consisted of an apartment two blocks from campus and a relegation to attending class from (most likely) a now worn-down corner of her bed.
If you’d told us this was how her freshman year would have gone two years ago, we might have laughed and said oh, that sounds perfect for Zoe – she hates people, the public, and doing, well, most things. To us, she’d grown up a little too attached to her electronics and uncomfortable with actual human interaction. That was a perfect fit for a kid who missed prom and graduation – she had no interest in actual events. We felt weirdly fortunate to not host a young woman on the brink of devastation at missing those benchmarks. Even now, looking back, we think thank goodness that whole pandemic thing didn’t take place in Zack’s senior year – as he would have taken it much differently. Our pattern of thought never really change. Not because we weren’t paying attention – but because we were giving her the requested space of a child leaving the nest for the first time.
As the conversation continued, Zoe went on about the pointlessness of paying so much for something that was no different than capping off her senior year of high school with four months of virtual learning – shelling out cash for something that was giving her so little back. And this time, we didn’t charge down the path of oh, no, this year is different, when we were in college, just wait until life gets back to normal, blah, blah, blah. This time we understood the salt that would be rubbed into the wound with our insistence that she just didn’t understand. Of course, she wouldn’t understand, her whole college experience thus far has been anything but understandable. We spent so much of the year thinking how lucky she was to be a freshman this year and have zero idea about what she was really missing that we completely missed the part where she is well aware that she is missing something. She may not be able to put her finger on it, but it’s definitely not there.
A year ago, when we were in the throngs of choosing college trauma, I’d have cringed at the words “community college”. What? Community College? That’s not what the plan was at all! You were going to get into some school hours away and spend time in the real world and find out that we weren’t the worst parents ever! I suppose the world doesn’t get anymore real than it was this year. I did cringe this time, but only briefly. This time I got it. This time my mind began to process all that this child has been through – all the while living away from us, the not worst parents ever. She has rocked it out, really.
Every step of raising this one has been marked by progress and regression. I’m told this is fairly normal in the land of teens and especially in the land of female teens and super especially in the land of mother/daughters (when the latter is a teen). For the past several years, most of my conversations with Zoe have been followed with a conversation my favorite mentor-mom. I like to show up in her text string or next to her on the soccer field or at her kitchen table to share my tales woes and worries. She is kind enough to trade back her own, thus making me feel slightly more normal. It was no surprise, then, that this week’s session was quickly arrange – in a shared erranding run with some time in the car together (I hope she hasn’t realized that car rides are how I trap people into forced listening). I went through this latest round of developments, ending with a less than I expected feeling of exasperation – which was the confusing part. Why wasn’t I more bent that this brilliant, beautiful child wanted to forgo ‘real’ college and go local with a potential move back in? Shouldn’t my barbs be raised? Shouldn’t I be sad or angry or panicking? What was this combo of satisfaction that she really has thought it through yet worry that it’s not the right direction?
She’s growing up, my mentor said, figuring out who who she is. Well, yes, that’s good, right? Shouldn’t I be one thousand percent thrilled then? Instead of this weird what-is-happening-what-is-going-to-happen-stuff is-going-to-happen feeling?
Because she’s becoming herself but it’s not the version of her that you’d pictured. And that’s when I pushed my trusted mentor out of the car.
So. There’s the rub. Sure, Zoe had a vision of what this first year away from home would look like. But so did I. We raise our kids with hopes and dreams that we aren’t necessarily even aware of until those hopes and dreams veer off our parental course. We spend a lot of energy trying to right the ship, bringing it back into line with what we had laid out. And then, out of nowhere, they become baby adults – suddenly full of sensible decisions that aren’t the ones that we might have made, but ones that are still, well, sensible. There’s a mixture of good-for-you and she-needs-me-less which leaves you smack dab in the middle of happy and sad. It’s your first real sign of parental success, but also your first real sign of no need for these reins.
This version of Zoe is definitely not what I had pictured. This first year of college is definitely not what I had pictured. And not having to do clean up or recon or pull out the safety net was absolutely not what I had would ever have pictured. But here we are – heading down a different path and feeling comfortable in letting her take the lead. I think of that often heard line of if you want to hear laughter, just tell God your plans. Seems the same can be said about teens.
And, perhaps, this mom just needs to trust both.