Get Out Of Their Way And Oh The Places They’ll Go

“You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!” ~Dr. Seuss

KWCW 90.5 Walla Walla

Yesterday I wrote about how freeing it is to let your adult children find themselves. It’s not easy to step back and get out of their way, especially if they have been your full-time job for twenty years, but it is a game changer for them and for you. After finishing my post last night, the universe provided proof of this to me.

On September 30th, the day I left Joe at Whitman College to begin his second semester, he attended the Student Activities Fair. When I asked him what activities or clubs he approached at the fair, I was a little taken aback when he told me he was submitting an application to be a DJ at the campus radio station. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Joe has long been aware of and interested in music. In May 2005 when he was not yet four, I put on some classical music for him to listen to and he listened for a few seconds and then said, “I don’t like that song. I just like to listen to Green Day in the car.” Since the day we brought them home from the hospital, our children have been exposed to alternative and indie rock, with the occasional 80s or 90s song thrown in for good measure, because that is what we listen to on satellite radio. Joe’s interest in Green Day grew into interest in The Killers. In his early teens, he acquired a side affinity for Asian pop music due to his love of anime, but ultimately he landed back in the alt rock genre around his sophomore year of high school.

Joe asked me to look over his application. He was putting in for a slot for a program he was calling Breaking Down Alternative. He was planning to go by JC (his first and middle initials) on the air and his show would go behind the music and delve into the artists’ influences and their personal stories. I told him it all looked good and took a “we’ll see” approach because I had no idea what kind of competition there might be for DJ slots. Lo and behold, a couple weeks later he casually texted it was official. He was going to be a DJ on Wednesday nights at 11 pm.

So last night, Steve and I stayed up from midnight until 1 am to listen to our son the DJ through a link he had provided to us. After a little fumbling at the beginning of his time slot, where two other DJs could be heard helping Joe get set up before realizing with a laugh that they were live, Joe finally came online. We heard him introduce himself and his show and then play his first song. With each passing song, the seamlessness with which he spoke and then started the music increased. It was amazing to be part of his first on-air experience. We could hear his smile through the radio, and it made us smile. We texted with him throughout the program. He was relaxed and happy and stunned by the quality of the music through the radio headphones. Our son blew us away, not because we thought he wouldn’t rise to the occasion but because he was out there, pursuing something that he loved and taking risks to put himself there. And this is why I said yesterday that he is a joy. He continually surprises us with his adulting, his knowledge of himself, and his choices. Like any college student, sometimes he misses the mark and stumbles, but he has proven that he learns from his missteps and then improves with the freshly acquired knowledge. Isn’t that exactly what a parent hopes for when they launch their child into the big, wide world?

This is why giving them a strong foundation and then letting them go to see what they will accomplish while they climb their own mountain is rewarding. The things we want or choose for them might pale in comparison to what they choose for themselves. What do we know, after all? As much as we tend to see our children as extensions of ourselves, they aren’t. They are completely different animals with their own ideas and talents. If we get out of their way, they might teach us something.

Joe introducing his second song on air last night

The Transition Trip

I love seeing my sons together, even if it is via a Snap map

As a parent of a high school senior, the college search is often on my radar. After successfully launching Joe in person at his college of choice in January, I began to work with Luke on his search. To that end, back in March, I took Luke to get a feel for a Reed College in Portland, which at the time was his number one choice. Then, in June, we flew to the northeast because he wanted to visit Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. After that, I decided he needed to see some schools in the middle of the country, a little closer to home, so we visited three colleges in Minnesota. The schools on Luke’s list have largely stayed the same, but the order he has them ranked in has evolved several times. It’s been kind of exciting to see his process at work.

This weekend Luke is in Walla Walla, Washington, visiting Joe at Whitman College. Today he toured the campus and sat in on an information session. Initially, Luke had no desire to attend his brother’s school of choice because he was intent on finally setting himself apart from Joe. The boys have attended the same schools together since Luke started kindergarten, so I didn’t blame him for wanting to step out of his older brother’s shadow. Still, I couldn’t help but selfishly want them to end up at the same place again. They would still be a thousand miles from home, but they would be there together, at least for part of the time until Joe graduated. They could share a car and have family there for emotional support. It made sense to me, but it was never my choice to make so I decided to let it go and let the chips fall where they may.

Luke told me recently that Whitman had moved into the top spot for him. I think after doing a cost/benefit analysis of his situation, he realized that he would have time to make his own way as an upperclassman after his brother had graduated and gone on. And, in the meantime, he would have a support system at school, someone who could give him advice on professors and activities and dorms. He could start down his own path, make his own friends, but not be taking such a huge leap on living across the country alone. Joe could be a safety net for him as he branched out for the first time as an adult. Luke, for all his ideas and occasionally stubborn views about his future, usually lands squarely on the wisest choice.

Nothing is definite until the five schools Luke will apply to make their decisions, but I am solidly behind his selections and don’t think he could go wrong with any of them. Would I like it if he ended up with his brother in small town Walla Walla with its charming downtown, 140 local wineries, beautiful scenery, and pleasant weather? No. I would love it. I fell in love with Walla Walla two years ago when I toured Whitman with Joe the first time. But I will have to pull back my enthusiasm until the dust settles. It’s hard to be a parent as your kids transition into adulthood. What was once settled and routine and in your control gets upended. It’s your turn to go along for the ride. I keep wondering where we will end up.

For now, I will just be grateful that the two are together again tonight. All is right in my world. And probably in theirs too.

I’ll Carry My Own Wine, Thanks

Something occurred to me this morning. The purpose of this trek was to deliver Thing One to Washington to begin his first full year of college. Everything I’ve done the past twenty years led to these moments. And as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing Joe here and helping him get set up, one thing has finally sunk in. My work here is finished. Maybe not completely, as I’m sure soon enough he will be asking me to edit a paper or send him something he forgot. But I can’t pretend any longer that life as I have known it is the same. It’s not. I’ve spent the past twenty years laser focused on my children. Now it’s time to shift my focus. I imagine it’s like the day after the retirement party. You wake up and think to yourself, “Well, now what?”

The beauty of eastern Washington with her eye on the Blues

Joe and I had tentative plans to have dinner together today, but I woke up this morning with not one other thing on my agenda. I sat in my hotel room and took a deep breath. What the hell do I want to do? Not what do I have to do, but what do I want to do? I haven’t had many occasions to ask myself that for a long time. I decided that rather than sit in bed and feel sad and lonely, I had best get showered, do something with myself, and get some coffee. Seeking something new but still in my heart needing something that felt like the life I have known, I decided to drive out to Target in Richland because Richland is new to me but Target is my normal.

At Target, I wandered aimlessly to kill time. I knew Joe needed hangers and a small fan and I needed some water, so I took care of those things. I would pick an item up, thinking Joe could use it in his dorm room, and then I would remember that it’s not my job to decorate his room anymore and move on. I quickly realized that, although on most days Target can cheer me up, today was not going to be that kind of day.

I decided I needed to regroup. I bought myself a green tea from Starbucks and sat in my car thinking about what else I could do. I began researching a winery I had driven by on my way out to Richland. Going to a wine tasting solo sounded awkward, but I needed to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m starting over. Everything is going to feel weird for a while until it doesn’t anymore. Be brave. Be bold. Go big or go home. I booked a 2:15 tasting and went to grab some food. I ate lunch at a picnic table near the Columbia River and enjoyed the shade before heading back towards Walla Walla.

Nice day on the Columbia

I had driven past the L’Ecole No. 41 winery a few times on previous trips. I found my way up the stairs and into the main sales area and told them I had a reservation. I was seated on the back deck at a table with just one chair, which immediately made me feel at ease. Nothing can make you feel more obviously alone than being a single at a table meant for two. I made small talk with the server as he poured my wine. And then I was there alone, sipping delicious wine, enjoying the sunny day in eastern Washington, the wasps swirling around a tree and some children playing on an old seesaw on the grassy yard below. As each pour came and went, I started to relax a tiny bit more. I allowed myself to envision a life where I have fewer demands on my time and greater freedom to be conscious about how I choose to spend that time. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all?

I did eventually meet up with Joe to give him the last few items he needed, to see the finished dorm room, and to grab a bite to eat. We enjoyed Indian food from the same restaurant we ate takeout from when we arrived in Walla Walla in January. Joe told me about his past, solo 24 hours. He told me he nearly had trouble assembling the storage unit we bought for his room until he remembered his bike tool had a screwdriver he could use. He told me his new section mates seemed like a quiet group and he was glad. He thanked me for bringing the final items. I told him about my trip to Richland and the winery. I told him how an older gentleman (yes…older than me) asked if I needed help carrying my wine to my car. I complimented him on his dorm room. Before I knew it, we were discussing when to meet up in the morning for my departure.

Lovely downtown Walla Walla urging me Forward

I know this is going to be a process. I’m creating a new normal, but I can do it. It was a new normal when Joe came into the world weeks early and weighing only 5 pounds. I survived that and then doubled down and spent years doing a pretty good job at Mom. I bet if you give me a few years, I’ll be doing a pretty good job at Justine too.

Do I need help carrying my wine? Jesus, man. I raised two kickass sons and dropped one off at college yesterday. Can’t you see how goddamn strong I am? I’ll carry my own wine, thanks.

I bet this dog carries his own wine too