Going off to college for the first time is a very exciting time for students – a new bedroom, a new school, new friends and new freedoms.
For parents, however, it’s a whole different story.
In the midst of shopping to outfit a dorm room, rearranging work schedules around a trip to campus and organizing finances to write tuition checks, many parents will stop and wonder this month: where did all those years go?
I don’t remember growing older, when did they?
It seems like only last year that my oldest son made his first Communion. Then a couple months later he won that trophy at the forensics contest. Two months after that he joined the high school marching band. Just last week he joined the university marching band.
Time is not what it used to be. My four years in college seemed like an eternity.
Thirty years later, four years of high school are just four blinks. Poof, gone. Last year our daughter left for college, this year it’s our oldest son.
It’s sad to see them leave home, away from our protective nest. Are they prepared to be on their own? Did we do everything as parents to help them get ready?
We think so; though we worry it’s not enough. We just want what’s best for our children, like the character Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) in the current film Click.
Motivated to provide a good life for his family, Newman cancels a long-planned camping trip to work on a project for his inconsiderate boss (David Hasselhoff). But when Newman can’t find the TV remote to watch a planning DVD, he drives to the local Bed, Bath & Beyond.
There he talks to Morty (Christopher Walken) who handles products in the “Way Beyond” department. Newman happily leaves the store with a new universal remote with wondrous powers.
In a short time Newman learns that he can fast forward through arguments with his wife, mute the barking dog and pause time to torment the neighborhood brat.
He also discovers that he can fast forward through his big work project. As he tells his wife, all he wants to do is get through the daily grind to the stage in his life when he can be the boss. Then he can finally spend quality time with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and their two children.
But life is not a destination, it’s a journey. If you wait until you arrive at a destination to enjoy life, you’ve already missed it.
Newman finds out that there are dire consequences to his fast forwarding. When he is under the influence of the remote, he is on auto pilot, barely speaking to his family, concentrating only on his work.
His family drifts away during this neglect. His wife divorces him and remarries. His own health deteriorates from years of eating fast food and unhealthy snacks. Even his son shows the same signs of a “business first” attitude. Newman finally understands what he missed and regrets how he let his work (and the remote) control his universe.
With our children going off to college, it’s easy to look back and feel some regret – the big game missed, the ‘N Sync concert tickets not purchased, the Disney vacation during their “perfect ages” not taken.
But regret is a crippling emotion. It can clamp down on you like a pair of too small gym shorts, overwhelming your thoughts until you take them off.
Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand’s famous author of short stories wrote, “Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; you can only wallow in it.”
Instead, we should view our children through the words of Thomas Merton: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
I don’t lament that our children have out grown out of pajamas with feet. Now that they are older, we can enjoy new adventures and experiences (they may even understand more of my jokes). I am comforted in knowing that my wife and I will always be their parents, ready to support, guide and love.
When I grew up in my parents’ house, my mother had a framed needlepoint hanging on the wall. It read “The best things we can give our children are roots and wings.”
So fly away Connor, fly away Kristin, may God keep you and all the college students safe until you come home again.
First published in the August 11, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.