College Worries, Big and Small
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “hope for the best but prepare for the worst,” lately. That was my mantra for a long time, and it went double for parenting.
My job, as a parent—as I understand it, anyway—is to prepare my children to be independent adults. I’ve always said that doesn’t happen either by being their “buddy” or by ignoring things which may be Not Good; my approach has always been to talk (and talk and talk some more) with them, impart what I think is important information, give them clear boundaries, enact consequences when necessary, and work on loosening the reins and stepping back as they get older.
Yesterday I wrote kind of a brain-dump post over on my personal blog, and asked—among other things—if my recent discovery of high-lofted beds in my daughter’s intended college dorm for next year is as terrifying as I think it is, or am I just being an old worrywart? (This question was posed somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I really was taken aback by beds well above my head with no guardrail or ladder.) Responses were split, but the majority indicated that I was being silly. And it’s entirely possible that I am. This is why I asked, because sometimes I latch on to something with an assumption that isn’t correct, and I wanted a reality check.
One comment from a long-time reader really struck me. She said, “She’s going to college. Safety-wise, the LEAST of your worries is the height of the loft bed.”
Well… yes. In a global sense, that’s true. And honestly, I had started to feel sort of silly about my worry, last night, and then my darling daughter woke up this morning with a migraine. She needed to come downstairs to get her meds, and she slipped and fell on the stairs because she was dizzy and unwell. The good news is that she was more shaken up than hurt, but the bad news is that the first thing I thought after I heard the thump of her hitting the landing was How on earth am I supposed to feel okay with her sleeping in a bed seven feet in the air when she can’t even get down the stairs??
Terrible things happen to kids at college every day, some of them choices, some of them not. Some of them are theoretical to me: while the increase in shootings on college campuses is terrifying, I also don’t personally know anyone who’s experienced it, so it remains in the “scary but not entirely concrete so maybe don’t think about it” box in my brain. Some of them are all too real and relatable: we know a kid who went off to the same college my daughter will be attending and was in a terrible car wreck less than a couple of months into the semester. The aftermath involved hospitalization far from home for a week, then having to withdraw from school and rehabilitate back home for months. (This kid is lucky to be alive, but there’s still a long, hard road ahead.) We know another kid who went to school locally and was, by all accounts, a complete success story… only to drop out of school halfway through the semester with a proclamation that it just “isn’t for me.” Well… sure… some things don’t turn out the way you like, but losing your scholarship and thousands of dollars your parents forked out may not by the optimal way of responding, I’m thinking. (Me: “So if it isn’t all you hoped—” Kid: “I know, I know, finish out the semester and come up with an alternate game plan. I got it.”)
I don’t want to be scared for my kids all the time. Frankly, I’ve been to that rodeo, and I don’t recommend it. The reality is that sometimes awful things happen to people who don’t deserve it, and even regular, everyday life can and does bring a multitude of tiny injustices and cruelties that will break your heart over and over. Loving someone means you hurt when they hurt. And no one can protect either themselves or their loved ones from pain. You do the best you can—you teach your kids to avoid pain as often as possible, and how to cope with it when it’s inevitable—and you hope that somehow everyone gets out alive and happy more often than not.
So yes, there are easily a hundred other things I could worry about more than the height of a loft bed when it comes time to drop my firstborn at college. Given her rather tumultuous first few years of high school, I have even more to worry about than the “average” getting-the-kid-ready-to-launch parent. Someone could open fire on her campus. She could get hit by a bus. She could be roofied and/or date-raped or mugged. She could be miserable and lonely. She could fail all her classes. She could have a debilitating mental health setback, only this time without me there to oversee her care and keep her safe. It’s 100% true that the height of her loft bed is probably the least of my worries.
But while I hope for the best (a great college experience) and prepare for the worst (hey kid, let’s discuss disaster planning of all types!), I’m okay with wondering whether the height of those beds is safe. It feels normal, and manageable, and maybe I’m realizing I like it when someone tells me my fears are silly, even if they’re talking about bed height while I’m thinking about everything else that might go wrong. We all manage our anxiety in different ways. I am trying to hope for the best, be prepared for the worst, and spend most of my time assuming it will all work out, somehow.
Photo source: Photodune