“Mom, you’ve got to fill out the FAFSA financial aid form this weekend!”
“Mom, if I agree to go to college close to home, can I get a dog?”
“Mom, I need your credit card right now so I can send my ACT scores to four more colleges.”
“Mom, you should have pushed me to apply to more schools. What if I don’t get into any that I want?”
These are all real conversations or texts I’ve gotten from my twins this past year. After the drama and tear-filled agony of junior year (when I swear they each came home with four hours of homework per night, and an average of three tests per week), I thought senior year was going to be a breeze. They’d just need to keep up their grades for the first half of the year, apply to a few schools, and then we could all kick back, wait for the acceptance letters to start pouring in, and I could daydream about the sweet freedom I’d experience next fall. To walk into their bathroom without tripping over a wayward hairbrush or open a pint of cookie dough ice cream that hadn’t been liberated of all the cookie dough by a foraging teen.
Instead, nearly every day arrives with a recitation of all the schools their friends and acquaintances have gotten into (“If only you’d pushed me to do a sport, I could have gotten in early decision to a good school, too!”), and their separate but distinct primal fears: “What if they hate my essay—I’m not that interesting!” or “What if I hate my school and don’t make any friends?”
I look at my children now, nearly adults making adult decisions about their futures and it’s hard some days not to wish for simpler times. For the days when homework assignments consisted of creating a prehistoric desert diorama or writing an essay about why they love their cat. Back then, too, I was simply their everything. They looked up to me, adored me and hung on my every word.
That doesn’t mean they thought I was all-knowing. I remember one of my daughters coming home one day and telling me about Columbus’ voyage with the Nina, the Pinta and the . . . “Santa Maria,” I finished. “How did you KNOW that?” she asked, incredulous.
I also miss the way their eyes lit up when I walked through the door after school to pick them up, or arrived home from work. Once I came home late from work, and one of my daughters bounded over to greet me and then sat beside me on the couch. She looked up at me quizzically, in the way she did when she was having deep, eight-year-old thoughts, and said, “Why is it that just sitting next to you makes me so happy inside?”
Now, I’m more likely to get a text asking me to take them for a driving lesson, or pick up a graphing calculator, or I’m greeted at home with a closed and locked bedroom door and a shout of, “I’m busy.” True, one or the other sometimes like me to keep them company when doing schoolwork or art (as long as I stay silent), but there are many days where I’m shut out, shut off, and seemingly not an important part of their everyday worlds.
We all have different schedules and one day, it hit me that we almost never sat down together to even eat a meal. About a year ago, I decided to change that. I told them that every Sunday from then on, all four of us were going to get together for a home-cooked meal at our dining room table. No cell phones, no laptops. Surprisingly, no one put up a fight (I was waiting for one). Although we were all caught up in our own worlds, deep down we missed each other’s company, and the ease of just being together as a family.
Once we got into the Sunday dinner groove, a funny thing happened. My children, who travel in different social circles and for months barely spoke a word to each other in school or at home, started having animated conversations at the table. Even when it was only to gang up on me or their father, I was secretly thrilled.
These days, we talk about everything and nothing during those meals. We’ve endlessly discussed the pros and cons of colleges, their current workload in school, how much we love our nine-year-old dog who is sick and will probably not be with us much longer. One night, the girls gleefully showed us an episode of their favorite show, Rick and Morty, before we played a board game based on it. They eat food I’ve made with love (and sometimes the help of Blue Apron), we laugh a lot, and for at least 20-30 minutes each week, we hang together as a unit, as a team, as a family.
In less than a year, all this will change. J will get into one of the schools she applied to, and will undoubtedly be making friends and settling into a dorm in a new city. And L will be doggy training a puppy of her own and either commuting to NYC or driving herself to school on Long Island.
I have mixed feelings about change. I yearned for the day they would finally be potty trained. Once they were, I was instantly nostalgic and missed their diaper butts. Then I couldn’t wait until they would use alarms and get themselves off to school on their own. Now that they do, I mourn those hectic mornings making them breakfast and sharing a few moments before we start our days.
I know my greatest job as a parent is to help my children learn how to live successfully on their own, and college is the first big step. And I’m so proud of the young adults they are fast becoming, even if they’re still a few (?) years away from appreciating all the love and work I’ve put into getting them to this point.
I’ll be sad next fall when our family dynamic shifts. But at least I know I can count on two things: there’ll be a pint of ice cream waiting for me in the freezer, pristine and untouched, and we’ll all be together again during the holidays.