Back to school preparations this year were pretty much the same in my house as they’ve been for more than a decade. As my children got older they had more say, but it’s still fundamentally a process of preparing to get back to a school schedule.
This is the last year it will be that way.
My daughter is a senior this year. In 12 months she’ll be at college. My son is a junior. In two years he’ll be heading out, too.
I understand the tendency to get maudlin about the passage of time and what that’s going to mean for the changes I see just over the horizon. It’s going to mean major adjustments for everyone. And there will be times I will miss how things have been for so long.
But, mostly, I’m excited about this. I have had the challenges and the rewards that come with watching my children grow and become young adults whom I believe are fully capable of meeting the future with confidence. Within the next two years lie some of the biggest inflection points of their lives, times that will forever separate the before from the after. And those events will do the same for me.
When I went to college I expected the changes would be life-altering. I didn’t realize how thoroughly correct that was, though. I went from a major metropolitan area to a town of about 3,000 people. Roughly a third of the town was made up of students. Calling that shift an adjustment undersells just how different it was from what I had known.
That moment when I had my belongings moved into my room and my father drove back home remains the one in which the meaning of alone was fully impressed upon me. I was separated from the familiar, with no easy way to return to it, and had to figure out the next steps with minimal guidance.
There’s a tendency to think of a move to a big city as more intimidating than one to a small town. I’m not sure that’s accurate. The intimidation that comes with life’s major changes comes from how unfamiliar the situation is more than the population in which you find yourself. It’s equally possible to be out of your depth in a city with 1,000 residents or one with 1 million.
I will not be able to shield my children from similar realizations over the next couple years. But, truth be told, I don’t really want to. Learning to stand on unfamiliar ground is an essential skill, one that will serve them well. And it’s something they can’t learn with me holding their hands.
There’s a line from “The Last Jedi” that seems appropriate. (Come on, you had to see that coming. I’ve revealed myself as a geek enough times for this not to be a surprise.) Yoda emphasized the importance of failure when he spoke with Luke. He then mentioned Rey, Luke’s student, indirectly.
“Luke,” he said, “we are what they grow beyond.”
Yoda called that the true burden of all masters. It could be said of parents as well. If we do our jobs, our children exceed our abilities.
I’ll enjoy the upcoming year. After all, it’s the last one before everything changes.