The Second Going
Bill Long 7/18/07
Thoughts on Taking My Son To College
I took my son to college yesterday in Eugene OR--for the second time. I thought that when I took him to Colgate University in Hamilton, NY in August 2005 for his freshman year (oops, correction; he was a "first year" student and not a "freshman") that I had "finished" my major time commitment of parenting. But I was wrong. Even though he did well at Colgate, Colgate wasn't the best place for him, and he returned to Oregon in Feb. 2006 to live with me. I have always enjoyed having my son around, so that wasn't a difficulty; it is just that when he returned in Feb. 2006 I thought I was already "done" with the parenting gig. But then, as 2006 turned into 2007, he decided that the U of O in Eugene was a better match for him, and I agreed. Now he has found a nice apartment and is ready to engage academically like never before in life.
As I was taking my son to the university yesterday, I used the U-Haul driving time as an opportunity to think about life and parenting. Here are three things I learned.
Lesson # 1-- You Both Have to Be Ready
I think I assumed that when my son turned 18, he was by definition "ready" for college and independence--whatever form that experience would take. I was certainly "ready" for him to move to the next chapter of his life, which would allow me to do the same. But one person's readiness and another person's being at the age where he was supposed to be ready to leave home are not the same thing. Readiness must be a two-way street in order for things to work. I literally saw my son "grow" in readiness to be independent as 2006 turned into 2007. Indeed, it was a very important thing for me to witness. My daughter had demonstrated independence and readiness for her next step immediately after high school, but this didn't happen for my son. I had to learn to "listen" to him once more as he prepared for the next stage of life.
I have a friend whose son is my son's age. He has been living with her but she is at the point where she thinks it is time for him to "be on his own." He is leaving telltale signs around the house which are all but inviting his mother to "kick him out" so that he can be on his own. Here, the readiness equation is somewhat different but the bottom line is the same. A 20 year-old boy/young man is really longing for the next step, even though he expresses that yearning in potentially confusing ways. If you listen between the lines to your son's actions and words, you will determine when he is prepared for the next step. Don't confuse what society says, however, with what will be the case for your son. Society says that he is "ready" to be on his own, in a modified form, at age 18. It is more complex than that.
I recall that when my son went away to college in 2005 I came home and "celebrated" my independence by doing six loads of wash. I never do more than two at any time, so this was a sign that I was ready for the next step of my life. But it wasn't to be for him. Yesterday, after I deposited him at the university, I came home and only did two loads. I am learning---
Lesson # 2-- It is Important To Pay Your Debt to Nature
One of the great gifts of life is your sixth decade, where you finally have time to sit down and think about life and its lessons. I wasn't ready to let life come to me and listen to its words to me until I turned 50. Why? Because before that time I was so concerned with getting the right degrees (which I had by age 30), getting the right jobs and experience, publishing the "right kind" of books and articles, raising two kids for life in America and deciding that my life-partner was really not going to be my life-partner, that I didn't have a chance to stop and look at life as it was right before my eyes. An example of this, I suppose, is that I really never took time to learn all the major varieties of trees and plants and shrubs and flowers and insects and fish that were part of my surroundings. I just was seemingly "too busy" to stop and let them teach me what they wanted to say about life.
But ever since about 2003 or 2004 I have begun to reverse that trend. Now I stop and look at things, because as I think of it, I really don't have anything more important to do than to learn the ways of trees or bees or knees on threes, as Dr. Seuss would have it. What dawned on me yesterday, however, was that by living the way I lived from age 20-50, when I was frequently frustrated because I wasn't living in a way that I felt provided much freedom, I was paying my debt to nature for the privilege of living at this place and in this age. Just as we pay our debt to the government (I think that sometime early in May is the time we finally begin to "work for ourselves" every year) each year, so we need to pay our debt to nature in life. Nature requires from most of us that we leave in our wake at least one or two people who will at least do as good if not a better job than we in dealing with the demands of life. It takes a long time to "shape" a person, and I felt that as I was dropping my son off in Eugene that I had "shaped" him and his older sister well. I will, of course, still have major involvement in their lives in the future, but I am feeling increasingly that I have paid the debt I owed to nature.
Lesson # 3--Now is the Time for Fun
Nature, in a sense, is now through with me. I still have time and ability to make some positive contributions to my nation or the world, I believe, but I have paid the debt that I owed for the privilege of living in the 21st century. That means, then, that my orientation needs to change. Now is the time for fun. Now is the time to learn all I can, to teach it to anyone who has ears to hear, to tell the story of the wonder and glory of life, to explore new depths of learning and love and interrelationship with people, to visit the world and the world's people, to learn their languages, to know all the words, to seek to be a force for life and learning and love wherever I go. Thus, I have emerged out of the long and difficult period of paying back to nature its due. That, friends, is just about done. Now, the fun of life begins. And I know I am ready for it this time.