empty nest

Sending a Son to College Feels Like This

I was sixteen when I turned down a full scholarship to Wellesley College. I don’t remember what that scholarship was worth in 1972 dollars, but I’d have to say, from my perspective now, that it would have been priceless. Wellesley offered me an open door into science and philosophy and language and strong women and self-esteem and intellectual passion that could have opened the world to me. They offered me Aristotle and Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre and Collette, Emily Dickinson and Michelangelo. They offered me classical sculpture, medieval history and macroeconomics, the riches of the Renaissance, fluency in a language, travel abroad, and in 1972, the rare opportunity to live at the beating heart of the emerging wave of feminism.

 

For years, whenever the subject came up, I joked with my mother, “If I’d gone to Wellesley, Mom, I just would have come out sooner.” That cavalier dismissal was my way of taunting my mother-but perhaps I was also deflecting the lost opportunity I must have sensed even then. When you turn your back on all of Western civilization and thumb your nose at a world-class education, when you say you want nothing to do with a network of some of the brightest and most talented women in the world, you are burning one serious bridge behind you. I would not get another shot at that kind of education. I’m sure some other high school senior was glad to have it; my refusal to accept the scholarship made some other parent’s day. But at the time, I was gleeful in my disdain for Wellesley, absolute in my dismissal of all it stood for. I slammed that door behind me and said, “No, I do not want your money. I do not want your school. I do not want your traditions and your hallowed halls. I do not want to be a Wellesley girl.” The day I turned that scholarship down I broke my mother’s heart, broke it in a way that I can only now, four decades later, understand.

 

“What’s the big deal?” I told her, as only an arrogant teenager can do. “It’s my life.”

 

Anticipating the Empty Nest

 Eli is away at a three-week program sponsored by Stanford University for high school students interested in math and science. He’s taking an intensive class in topology, something esoteric and mathy that has to do with studying the surface of knots. I have no idea whatsoever what they’re studying. Or why. But Eli chose it and it’s clear he’s having fun. He sounds confident and full of himself.

I miss him terribly.

Lately, I’ve been walking around looking at mothers and fathers with their toddlers and infants, mothers with children in playgrounds, and I realize how very long it’s been since I was a hands-on mother in that 24/7 kind of way.

Eli has been away for two weeks so far. In all that time, it has never once occurred to him to phone home. He has only texted back to me only because I couldn’t stand it and texted him, breaking one of the cardinal rules of letting go your children. Let them go. Fat chance.

I know it is inevitable and appropriate that your children leave you. I know it is a sign of good parenting for your child to lose interest in you, utterly, for a good number of years, and certainly 17 is in that span of years. Still, it stung that it never once occurred to him to want to talk to us. To me.

A Goodbye Letter to Eli

Eli in Love

Note to Readers: I read this post and my last one to Eli and asked his permission to publish them here. Graciously, he gave it.

Dear Eli,

It is time for me to say goodbye to you. It is time for me to let go of the relationship we used to have. For years I have been part of your inner world; you shared it with me freely. I was your mentor, your coach, the sun in your sky. I knew your heart, I knew your mind, I knew your spirit. I could read you with a single glance. From a very young age, you told me who you were and how you saw the world.

Your birth cracked open my heart in a way it had never been broken before; you helped make me who I am today. You gave me a new reason to live, someone to focus on, obsess over, provide for. I have always delighted in paving a way for you, supporting your interests, whatever they might be, creating a wealth of positive choices just steps from where you stood. I have guided you, protected you, cheered you on, and yes, at times, cajoled and manipulated you. I have shared my beliefs, my values, my heart, my resources, my best thoughts, and my deepest self. I have loved you and your sister more completely and with less restrictions than I have ever loved before or since, and I want to thank you for entering my world and teaching me to love.

Now you do not need me to be the mother I have been. You no longer need a mother to guide you, to lead you, to make decisions for you. You don’t need a mother to watch over your shoulder and make sure you do what you’re supposed to do. You don’t need a mother to fret over your choices and to push you when she thinks it is necessary. You don’t need me to intrude in your life and you prefer it when I do not.

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