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When We Look at Our Big Kids, We Still See Our Babies, TooElizabeth Spencer
To be completely honest, I spent most of this past academic year feeling sorry for every college senior — particularly my own.
I felt this way because of my memories of my own senior year of college. It was fun. Very fun.
Senior year of college (back in the day) didn’t seem to be super stressful for any of us. Many of my friends, like me, moved through the year not knowing exactly what we’d be doing after graduation, but no one seemed very concerned about that.
We all were confident that we’d find a job after we finished school. Back then, there wasn’t the intense push to do internships during college like there is today. Everything just seemed much more chill.
By senior year most of our classes were smaller and we enjoyed the discussions with classmates and professors. Our year was full of days where we sat or laid out on patches of grass around campus, reading a textbook or the school newspaper. Or walking a few blocks off campus to grab frozen yogurt and laugh with friends.
There were football games, tailgating, library meet-ups, dancing at clubs, and enough themed parties and jungle juice to keep any social butterfly happily engaged.
So when I think back to my senior year of college, a smile instantaneously happens, along with an auditory memory of great 80’s music and a fleeting whiff of microwave popcorn.
My son, however, started and ended his senior year of college taking all his classes on a laptop in the bedroom of his rental house, a few miles away from his campus.
I don’t feel sorry for him because of his living conditions. It was a great house with five great housemates, and a large backyard that they could hang out in.
But the whole vibe of the year was strange. A global pandemic will do that. There were no football games. There were no tailgates. There was no meeting up with a few friends to study in the library or in a study room in the business college building.
And even when my son learned in the spring that he could opt to return to a classroom for lectures, he decided he was just fine staying at his house and continuing to watch lectures online.
I was floored by this, not comprehending how any student wouldn’t want to get back to a little normalcy and see their classmates in person, even if they had to wear masks.
My son explained that he didn’t have a parking pass and didn’t want to walk all the way to campus. It was just easier and more comfortable to attend class from home, when he could watch the lecture recording any time he wanted. Huh…okay then.
And it suddenly dawned on me that these feelings of sadness I’d been feeling for him, and for all his friends, were not necessary, and even kind of pointless. For the most part they were doing fine. They were doing all the things that the mental health professionals say most kids do in times of stress and challenge.
They adapted in all kinds of ways.
They had the technology to keep moving forward with their studies and didn’t realize just how lucky they were in that regard. I've imagined what it would have been like if the pandemic had hit during my senior year of college.
To put it mildly, it would have been a disaster. There was no Zoom. The internet didn’t even exist yet for the masses, and email usage was a couple years into the future. Would our schools have mailed us hard copies of tests to take? Would our professors have videotaped themselves and mailed us VHS tapes to watch and return? Would seniors even have been able to graduate?
I began to realize how lucky these seniors were, in so many ways. They could still take exams. They could still interact with friends online and through social media platforms. They could keep up on news happening not only here, but around the world. They could take advantage of scientific breakthroughs, and even have their favorite foods delivered right to their doors — and not just pizza (our only option, so long ago).
They pivoted, they adjusted, they showed they were resilient in all kinds of ways. And they’ve come through an unimaginable event knowing that things mostly turn out okay. There’s a whole lot to be said for the life wisdom they’ve gained over the past fifteen months.
And watching my son go through and finish this odd senior year and coming to grips with my own feelings about it was like completing another course of Parenting College, if such a place were to exist.
With both of my kids now in their twenties, I suppose I’ve reached the higher-level lessons of Parenting. I’m here to acknowledge another truism of parenting that we all seem to understand in theory, yet we might not fully appreciate until we’ve gone through enough tests with our own children.
Our kids may be like us in certain ways, but their experiences are just that — their experiences. We may think we know how they might feel about a certain event or challenge in life, yet it's never guaranteed.
They are their own person, on their own unique path, with both the skills that we have taught them and those they’ve acquired on their own. Just as we should never assume how an adult stranger feels about anything, we shouldn’t assume how our young adult children feel about anything.
Our life has been ours, and their life is entirely theirs.
I’ve stopped feeling like my son’s senior year of college was a big let-down. He’s told us it was fine, and he had some great times.
He graduated this past weekend and is looking forward to starting a new chapter of life. One that he will write, and feel, and experience, all on his own.
It’s time to celebrate with the perfect gift for your new grad!