(How I Feel) Taking my son to college today in spite of... everything.
Here we are. The day we've been anticipating for over a year (concerned).
I'm not inexperienced when it comes to dropping off a child at college (cocky). When I took my first-born son to school two years ago, I was sentimental but mostly just excited for him (living vicariously)! I didn't cry (staid). I knew I would miss him but I was genuinely comfortable with the decision (prepared). This time feels...different (cautious).
This time last year, my husband and I were tiptoeing around the elephant in the living room that was our son and his unwritten college applications (restless). Matthew has always done things his way, on his own terms, and we knew applying to college would be no different (uneasy). He had spent many hours preparing for the SAT over the summer despite the fact that all of us think those tests are complete bullshit and are in no way indicative of success in college or in life (peeved). It's one of those horrific things you find yourself participating in even though you feel like a hypocrite for even paying the fee and hate yourself for doing it (repulsed). You want to buck the system and say "eff it" but you're too scared that maybe it actually is important and then you'll hate yourself for blowing it off (hamstrung). It is Mafia-level gas-lighting at it's finest, evidenced by the fact that fewer and fewer schools are requiring the ACT or SAT any more (exhausted).
But I do remember this exquisitely beautiful moment when he had been taking a practice test in his room and the swearing and pencil-breaking stopped (surprised). Matthew came into the kitchen:
Him: Test-prep is going much better now.
Me: Why is that?
Him: Because now, whenever I get a question wrong, I speak to myself in a compassionate voice and tell myself it’s ok. That I’m ok. This helps me refocus and keep going.
At that point, I knew it didn't matter what he got on the effing test because I knew my boy knew his own value and worth in himself and how to practice self-compassion (relieved). I knew these skills would make him more successful and fulfilled in life than anything else ever could (proud). He took the test a second time and got the same score he did before he spent months preparing (pissed). He was deflated (despairing). But only for a few hours (impressed). Then we all moved on (resigned).
He finished his applications well in advance of the due dates (energized). He spent the rest of the fall and winter struggling with major senioritis (apathetic). In the weeks leading up to the announcement date for UNC-Chapel Hill, his first choice, he began having all sorts of inexplicable stomach pains and other symptoms I knew had to be anxiety given their inconsistency (perplexed). But he was actually quite ill and was losing weight, even around the holidays (anxious). I wanted time to pass quickly so that he could find out his plans for the future and his symptoms would go away (troubled).
The day in January when he heard from Carolina that he had not gotten in Early Decision, we were all crushed (disheartened). He was despondent (despondent). He had been accepted at other schools but wasn't passionate about them (disappointed). Reading the letter from UNC more closely, we figured out that he had not been rejected outright but was eligible to apply for UNC Global Launch, a new program they'd never offered in the past (curious). He could apply to spend the fall semester abroad in Ireland at an affiliate university in Maynooth and then start in Chapel Hill in January 2021 (encouraged). He was skeptical at first, reluctant to put in the effort and risk disappointment, but as the deadline for the application approached he became even more driven and focused than he had been applying to college (hopeful). He wrote essays that spoke in a more compelling voice (inspired). After completing the questions in February, he wanted to make sure all of his materials had arrived (uneasy). We had the following conversation:
Me: Why don't you go up to campus and ask them if they got your application?
Him: Why? I could just email or call them.
Me: Because we live five minutes away from campus and people love to see an actual face.
Him; But that's not fair because I live here and the other applicants don't so they can't just go up there.
He got in the car and drove to the Admissions office (empowered). The young people at the front desk had never heard of the GlobalLaunch program (confused). They went to the back and summoned an admissions officer (pleased). They chatted for a bit before she said: "Yep. You're all set. We've got everything we need."
A few minutes after he got home, this went down:
Matthew (shouting from the second floor): Mom. My UNC application status has been updated. What should I do?
Me (running up the stairs): Well, first of all you need to step back from the stairs.
Him: Why? Because you think I'll fall if I don't get in?
Me: You could fall whether you get in or not. Just step away from the stairs.
We both went into my bedroom (addled). I looked over his shoulder at his phone and tried to read the fine print as he opened the link from Carolina: "We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted..."
Both of us went completely ape-shit (elated). Jumping up and down (ecstatic). Hugging and swearing and freaking out (enthusiastic). Our dog was freaking out, wanting to join in the celebration (happy). We were screaming, panting, dancing (thrilled). Jubilant (festive).
Over the following weeks, Matthew's stomach pains magically disappeared (relieved). We went to the Student Store and bought Tarheel gear (secure). He started having dreams about living in Ireland, the friends he'd make, his family visiting at Thanksgiving, him returning home with a cool accent (light-hearted).
In mid-March, Matthew and his younger sister were headed out the door to school:
Me: Just so you hear this from me and not all of your friends so you don't know what's true or not true, Coronavirus is coming. We will all get it but we will be fine. We will have to stay at home for two weeks but we will watch tons of Netflix, eat our favorite foods, play games and hang out with each other and then it will be over and we will move on.
Kids (laughing): Geez, Mom. Crazy much? Thanks for the heads up.
The following week, the world shut down (shocked). For Matthew this meant: no Senior prom (sad); no spring break (sad); no graduation parties (sad) although C.E. Jordan High School did a phenomenal job making the drive-by graduation ceremony super special (touched); no saying goodbye to those casual acquaintances you only see in the hallways (sad); no rehashing of inside jokes (sad); no yearbook signings (sad); no summer vacation with cousins (sad); no summer job as a camp counselor (sad).
In April, we learn that the Ireland program had been cancelled (disappointed) but Matthew has been accepted to UNC for the fall (excited).
In May, he had to take his AP Stats exam online, following the asinine format of answering 2 questions in 45 minutes and then uploading a photo of the handwritten answers (harried). The day of the exam, I was on the phone when I heard gutteral screaming from upstairs:
Me: What's wrong??
Him (screaming): I can't effing submit my answers!! The photo won't effing upload!! I have 3 minutes to submit my answer and go onto the next question and the effing photo won't upload!!!!
Me (completely incompetent): Ok. Hang on. We can fix this.
The time runs out (panicked). The next question, no longer available (panicked). My son, who has never been the least bit belligerent, punches a huge hole in his bedroom door (horrified). Who could blame him? You spend a year trying to learn statistics so you can get college credit for your effort and spend two months at home with no in-person learning, prepare for the test, feel great about your answers, then the effing computer won't let you submit your answer and you have no one to call. What would you do? (disgusted)
College Board didn't accept his answers but told him to take the test again two weeks later (fuming). In June, he took the test again in a rental house at the beach where his family went to escape quarantine for a few days (uneasy). Two weeks later:
College Board: We can't accept your answers because of a glitch. We invite you to take the exam again in two weeks.
Our entire family: EFF IT!
In July, we learned that the Ireland experience is back on and rescheduled to January 2021 (tentative).
The rest of the summer has been a blur (drained). The time with Matthew has been more special than I could have ever imagined (enchanted). I know there is a pandemic going on (scared). I know UNC-CH is getting criticized for re-opening (glum). I understand why professors don't want to teach (empathetic). I understand why parents don't want to pay for tuition, room and board when so many classes are going to be virtual (ridiculous). I feel with the elderly neighbor who ranted to me and Matthew as we walked our dog last night, lashing out at all the crazy college kids she saw on the local news, leaving a house party in Chapel Hill, not wearing masks; she's worried for her own health and others (bereft).
I wanted so badly for Matthew to have the Senior year and college freshman year that his older brother had (joy-filled). I couldn't control any of these events and I know it (remorseful).
Last week, Matthew was going camping with two friends in the NC mountains (apprehensive). I was foreboding joy, thinking of horror stories of something tragic happening right before something beautiful is supposed to happen (tense). I received a phone call from Matthew but it wasn't him on the other line:
Male voice: Hi there. This is Joe. I am calling you from Matthew's phone that I found here at Hole 7 on the frisbee golf course. It has his credit cards and driver's license tucked into the case. I thought maybe you'd know how to get hold of him.
Me: Ummm...how did you get my number? How were you able to call me?
Joe: I used Siri to Call Mom.
Me: Joe. I can't thank you enough for your honesty and cleverness. You are one great guy. Can you believe Matthew is starting college next week and his lifelines are there with you? How is this guy going to survive? How am I going to survive?!
Joe (laughing): I'm sure he's got it figured out.
I was able to reach Matthew through his friend's phone and proceeded to chew him out (ashamed). After we hung up the phone, this text conversation happened:
Him: I'm 18 now. When I mess up, it's my ass. I don't think you understand that messing up is stressful for ME. You adding on stress simply doesn't help. I love you, Mom. You can trust me to always do my best, make mistakes, learn from them, become better.
Me: That's beautiful, honey. I hear you and I respect you. I love you.
And so I am taking my boy to college tonight, at his assigned move in time of 630 pm, despite all the naysayers and my own discomfort (afraid). I am taking him because he deserves his hard-earned independence, new friendships and experiences (hopeful). He is resilient. He knows himself. He can set boundaries. He is dependable and loyal, even if he operates on different timelines than I do. He owns his mistakes and apologizes. He takes responsibility for himself and his actions. He does not gossip. He is trustworthy and honest. He has integrity and embodies his values, even if they are different than mine. He is nonjudgmental and always gives people the benefit of the doubt. Most importantly, he is good to himself and knows how to comfort himself. He has more emotional intelligence than most adults and I have no doubt that he will be successful in life (confident).
He also received notice yesterday that, by some unknown benevolent force of nature, he got a 5 on his AP Stats test and gets college credit.