I’ve been preparing for 2014 for the past 18 years.
At first, the preparations are miniscule. Start a savings account. Buy a few shares of stock. Figure out what year the squirming blobs just home from the hospital will graduate from high school. Once you’ve done that calculation, you’re pretty certain that 2014 is so far distant that its actual arrival seems as far-fetched as the notion of a computer that fits in your back pocket.
But everything we do as parents, from teaching our children to read to teaching them to cross the street safely, is in preparation for the day that they go off to college.
And yet, it’s always, inexorably, in the far-distant future.
The summer my sons were 9, my husband turned to me and announced, “We’re halfway there.”
Halfway where? I asked stupidly.
“We’re halfway to getting them off to college.”
The idea blew my mind. How had the first nine years gone by so fast? And yet college still seemed a bridge too far. The first nine years were pretty simple. It is the surly preteen and teenage years that are the undoing of most parents, right? Surely, if the first nine had gone by in the blink of an eye, the second nine would seem interminable: We’d be eager to see them go.
By the time high school rolled around, I was a single parent working 60 hours a week. I went to my boss and said, “My boys are starting high school. Everyone says it goes by so quickly. If I stay in my same job, doing what I’m doing I’ll miss their high school years.” In my mind, I played out the other scenario: High-school boys with no father and an absent mother could easily go off the rails. What if I wasn’t around to notice?
In an act of compassion and good management that couldn’t have come easy in an era in which everyone in the newsroom was doing more, my boss let me do less. “You’re going to owe me, and I’ll start collecting the week after you take those boys to college,” he said with a smile.
And so I braced for the high school years. The looming possibility of bad friends. Drugs. Alcohol. Dating. Bad grades. And what I got for my worrying was the best stage of motherhood. I was living with (largely) reasonable people who could debate politics, deconstruct literature, explore art history and fix the computer. We actually liked the same types of movies and could see them together. They made me laugh and seemed (except when I was nagging about picking up their rooms) to appreciate what I did to create our lives together.
And now, 2014 is here. That year that once seemed so unfathomably far off has arrived. The time until my boys go off to college is no longer counted in terms of multiple years or even in “next” year. It’s this year. A matter of months.
The presents under the Christmas tree formed a narrative I didn’t realize I was creating — everything my boys would need to go off into the world: coffee mugs featuring a goofy dog to remind them of our Shadow. New wallets, with insurance cards tucked inside. And beautiful leather dopp kits, monogrammed with their initials in which they could carry toothpaste, shaving cream and, hopefully, 18 years of a mother’s love.