It’s been about a month since my oldest was home from college for the holidays, so I checked in on him last week with a phone call that went like this:
Me: Hey, baby, whatcha doing?
18: Walking over to get some food.
Me: Oh ok, so you can talk for a sec - how were your classes today?
18: I haven’t had them, yet. They’re later today - one’s at 1:50 and the other isn’t until 6.
Me: UMM, IT’S 1:54!!
I swear to Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, he’s learned nothing since Mark and I lost every ounce of our shit with him over the Christmas break.
Let me update you.
My oldest is one of those annoying people you knew in school who could sit glazed over in class everyday, never crack open a book, and somehow bring in straight A’s.
His testing skills are ridiculous, earning him a nice collection of ooh’s and aahh’s from a crowd of parents at the senior awards ceremony just before he graduated for being one of the last few students standing as they called for “those of you who had ____ number of AP scores above a 4” to sit down, and then “those of you who had ____ number of AP scores above a 5” to sit down.
I don’t say all this to be braggy, because I’ve never been more honest when I tell you that he did not get this from me or Mark.
I’m telling you this because it sets up the landscape as to why our current situation is so distressing. And confusing. And frustrating.
We tried, Lord knows we did, to emphasize during his high school years the importance of creating a study schedule - even if it was just to read or go over material from that day in class - something that would help him create discipline for himself because we knew he’d need it when he got to college.
He got into the college he wanted. Automatic admission.
He got into the Engineering program at said college, despite it being one of the most competitive engineering programs in the country.
Then he lost interest.
He pretty much stopped going to classes because he just wasn’t interested, anymore.
Then toward the end of the semester, when he was ready to get himself together and pull out those high caliber grades like he’s done year after year, he couldn’t do it.
He was too far gone.
Mark and I lost our minds over the winter break when the final report card came.
We had the come-to-Jesus meeting you’d expect, set up a repayment plan for him to reimburse us for last semester (pulling out our best life lessony parenting tactics), and sent him back to college with a fresh supply of ramen noodles, coffee pods, and “dig your heels in” pep talks to last him through May.
When he got back to school he changed his major to something he’s been interested in his entire life: neuroscience.
His classes have been much more interesting to him. The material less precise and more open to creative, out-of-the-box thinking, which appeals to him.
And yet, here we are again: he’s not going to class.
Only this time - thank all that’s holy - he broke down and told me, instead of lying to me and painting a rosy picture of how great things were going for him like he did last semester.
This time he isn’t leaving his room much at all. Not just missing classes, but missing meals, too.
Missing meetups with friends.
Missing sunshine and raindrops and chilly air on his cheeks.
I drove to him on Friday. It was an awful drive because it was stormy and foggy here in Texas on Friday.
Much of the drive from home to his school is through tiny towns that don’t have cell service, so I couldn’t make SOS calls to friends I knew could to settle my brain, which was reeling off the deep end during my two hours alone on the road.
I needed someone to hear me say out loud my thought, “God I hope he’s not depressed, but he better effing be depressed,” and then say all the right things to take away the guilt of that thought.
I don’t know how to best parent him right now.
I don’t know if he’s depressed and suffering anxiety, and needs me to swoop in to help him get mentally healthy again so he can get back to tackling the world, or if he’s just an unbearably irresponsible teenager with no drive or work ethic.
How am I supposed to know?
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you probably know that I had crippling anxiety when this child was born, and I wouldn’t allow myself to sleep because I was afraid (which isn’t even close to being a hefty-enough word there) that he would suddenly stop breathing.
Then when he was a toddler, I worried that he’d suffer later in life for spending all his days at daycare with women who weren't his mom.
Then when he started to drive, I worried that he’d have a car crash.
I remember telling my mom when he was a few days old, “I’ll just feel so much better when he’s a little older and I don’t have to worry about him dying in his sleep, anymore,” and she said to me, “You’ll still worry about him. You never stop worrying about your kids, no matter how old they are.”
I worry about him more now than I think I ever have.
Because now he’s on his own, and I worry, “Can he handle being on his own?”
He isn’t suicidal, I don’t worry about that. Not really.
I worry that - whether he has depression and anxiety, or immaturity and irresponsibility - that he isn’t equipped and that we haven’t done right by him in some way.
How am I supposed to know?
I know that parents sometimes have to let their kids fail in order to teach them how to succeed.