The Case for Ending the Beginning

Winston Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps, the end of the beginning.”  Churchill was not speaking about High School graduation, but he could have been.

For months now, we’ve been talking about college admissions. Statistics and demographics, essays and interviews, fit and community.  We’ve shared the submissions, acceptances, and declinations. We’ve talked financial aid, merit aid, schedules, classes, programming, APs, IBs, and CCs. For the last year, you’ve lived and breathed college admissions… and for most of you, the brass ring is at hand. Your student has been accepted and has accepted an offer of admission from a college or university.  Your spreadsheets and sleepless nights have come to conclusion. Across the Anchor Collegiate universe, I hear a collective sigh from parents everywhere.

So, what’s next?

The end of the beginning, that’s what.

For the last 17 or 18 years you have worked towards these moments. It was “the beginning.” I distinctly remember calling my husband in a panic one day when my daughter said to me at 6, “I don’t like to read, its boring.” I sobbed aloud into the kitchen phone, “How is she going to pass a college course if she hates to read? All I did in college was read!” Of course, she did just fine in college, read quite a bit; probably more than I did, to be honest. But for the last decade or so, our focus as parents was keeping our kids on the right track towards success.  Every hurdle was a building block to the next higher hurdle. We kept them on the narrow path towards college admission through inspiration, perspiration, and maybe even some good ol’ fashioned bribery. (no judgments on this end. My daughter the nonreader became my daughter the reader through the judicious, motherly use of m and m’s.)

But now, at the end of their senior year, you are needed less. They make carpool arrangements themselves. They come home from the mall with something for their dorm room. They excuse themselves from the table to “catch up with some work due next week.” They have friends and dreams with which you are unfamiliar.  You find yourself pining for the quiet drives home from the soccer game, dance recital, scout meetings. You make lists that begin with “schedule orientation weekend, buy duvet cover from Ikea, schedule teeth cleaning” only to find out they already did it. A friend of mine, whose daughter is  a client, came home from the mall with a graduation dress, a twin mattress topper, and twin extra long sheets. I asked her if she cried. She said no, but I think she’s still in denial. Another friend posted a year’s worth of “lasts” on facebook for her twins… last first day of school, last prom, last homecoming, last time taking the SATs. By May, I got a bit weepy whenever I visited her facebook. Thye are and were in the end of the beginning.

But Churchill was right about most things. We’ve spent thousands of days pushing and prodding, bribing and begging, conversing and questioning our kids to this point. To the point when they no longer need us to be mobile, to be careful, to be smart….to be independent. As parents, it’s a wonderful, horrible thing.

As I write this, I sit in my kitchen in my new hometown, helping the reformed nonreader, now a college graduate, apply to jobs all over the US. She and her sister astound me in their creativity, independence, and thought. Their beginning has ended. They are firmly in the midst of the campaign for their careers, their adulthood, the rest of their lives. What I learned about the end of their beginnings was this: College is a time for them to transform, and they can’t do that without a few battles, setbacks, or questions. As your students end their beginning, don’t be afraid to let them flounder a bit, question some of the as-before-unquestionables, wrestle with logistics, make an unpopular decision, backtrack and remake the decision another way. There will be some dark times that first year- a roommate fight, a social blight, a long study night. They will be sick without you. They will run out of Laundry detergent and underwear at the same time. They will fail a quiz or a paper or a class.  But each of those experiences will shape their adult years, just as you have shaped their beginning.

It comes down to this, the way you treated them in the beginning has helped them now that the beginning has ended. They will be fine. They will work it out. They will do their laundry, eventually. They will walk away from those who have hurt them; they will have a frank discussion with a professor about their grade; the will blow their nose and head to the campus clinic in between classes. They may not do it at first, but they will.  They have the lessons they brought forward from you to help them. Not one of them will win all the battles in college, but with the beginning you have given to them, they will conquer.

Revel in these last few months at the end of their beginning. You’ve done an amazing job.

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