I just want to check something.
I dropped my son, my eldest son, off at college yesterday. When you drop your kid off at college now, people spend a lot of time telling you not to be a helicopter parent. ‘You’re done,’ they say. ‘You did a great job,’ they say, ‘but now it’s time to go home.’ And, just in case you didn’t get the message, ‘leave your kid alone. We’ll take it from here.’
And I agree with all of that.
If raising a son born in Ethiopia taught me any one thing, it was that I would have to let go of the idea that I could control my children’s lives. I would have to let go of the belief that I could lecture, cajole, teach and nag my children into becoming who and what I thought they could and should be. Let go, or be dragged, as the saying goes. Or as we put it in my family, ‘you can’t make a giddy Ethiopian into a neurotic Jew.’ So. No helicoptering for me. None.
It’s just that I want to check something.
I’m not positive my son knows where to buy his books.
I don’t want to call the school or the RA of his dorm floor or try to order his books for him. I just want to, you know, check with him and make sure he knows how to order his books.
It’s a reasonable thing, but I’m not going to do it all the same because, my son is 18 and it’s time for him to be on his own. Except, well, I have this other thing I’m wondering about. He’s a terrific kid, my son, warm and kind and smart and funny and great in every way, but they have this ceremony called ‘convocation’ when you start going to a college. They give lovely speeches (all of which are about how you should let go of your kid and let him or her have their own experience of college) and they sing the school song and it’s really inspiring and wonderful. The president of the student body gave the last speech and she was impossibly eloquent and ridiculously pretty and she talked all about how scared she’d been on her first day and about how the school was now her home and really, by now, I’d gotten it. My son was staying and I was leaving and again, that was fine. I’m anti-helicoptering. I don’t do that. I believe in letting my kids live their lives and even more importantly, I believe that there’s no other choice than letting them live their own lives. I have no control over any one else in this world and that while I am welcome to go nuts exercising the illusion of control, it won’t bring me or anyone else a whole lot of happiness.
And in case any of the parents were wondering about all of that, they put the kids in this beautiful chapel and the parents in another building, where we watched the ceremony on a closed circuit broadcast, far, far, faaaaaaar from our kids. Because, really, that school wanted us to know, parents leave, kids stay. Got it?
I got it. No hovering.
It’s just that I want to check something.
My son, who is wonderful and kind and smart and funny and great in every way, had been a bit concerned about something called ‘flex points’ and while I’m not really sure what those are, I wanted to make sure that he’d resolved the issue, because, while my son is great and kind and smart and wonderful in every way, he’d never dealt with flex points before and by the way, he has a small cold and I’m not at all worried about him, because it’s just a cold, and I am not, not, noooooot a helicopter dad, and a cold is just a cold. It’s just that I was a bit concerned that he wouldn’t remember to take cough medicine and that would mean he’d keep his new roommate up all night and you don’t want to get off to a bad start with your new roommate and wind up being that guy, the one no one likes because……
Yeah, I’m a helicopter parent.
Except I didn’t call him or text or ask about his cold or any of that stuff. I felt sad that he wasn’t six years old anymore and I felt panicked about how he would manage and I remembered that feeling panicked is sometimes how I feel love for my kids. And most of all, I tried very hard to remember that my fear never ever admits to being fear. My fear doesn’t scream and it doesn’t shout. It whispers. And what it whispers to me is this: ‘I just want to check on something.’ It says to me, ‘we’re not going to hover, we just need to make sure that he knows where the food is. And the books.’ Because my fear is smart.
But you know what? My fear is smart but so is my son. I’m going to let him go to college and figure it out. Laundry, food plans, books and everything else. He’ll make mistakes and stuff will happen that I wish wouldn’t happen and he’ll have his life. His own life filled with all sorts of things. And I’m going to feel sad that he’s gone and happy that he’s in a great place and I’m going to let go. Because my son is smart and kind and wonderful in every way.
At least he was last I checked.