Written by Karen Rile
Published: April 24, 2014 at 11:29 PM [UTC]
You were there for her all along: organizing piles of paperwork, writing checks for the accompanist, and typing in your credit card number on the final screen of each application. You were her travel agent and partner in adventure. You rearranged your work schedule so that you could go along on trips to fetch her water bottle and granola bars. You guarded her stuff during the auditions, making nervous small talk with the other parents. You were her loyal and supportive coat rack. You took her to Pinkberry the time she thought she'd bombed. You helped her endure the endless wait in March, insulating her from the irritating questions of well-meaning relatives. You shared her joy and her frustration at the results of her efforts. You helped her figure out how to pay for it. (Or maybe it's you who'll pay for it.)
A college audition cycle is like a pregnancy—nine months of sustained parental energy, all focused on achieving a single, momentous transition.
Congratulations: you are now the proud parent of a college student. Have a cigar.
Now its time to get out of the way.
Years ago, it was possible for kids to manage their own college applications and decisions without much parental input. The current process is problematic in that it creates a fussy, high-maintenance situation at the very time when adolescents should naturally be growing independent. Chances are, you and your child have been more connected on every level throughout this stressful season than in past years. That's lovely, but how is Junior supposed to move forward with his psychological individuation when Mom and Dad are hovering so close?
Here's how. (Buckle your seatbelt.) Parent after parent expresses bewilderment and hurt when their kid, the same kid who so sweetly depended on them throughout the tumultuous audition cycle, turns unexpectedly cold or even surly during the months before college begins.
"Fauntleroy used to be so easygoing. Now we're fighting, day and night."
"I don't know what's gotten into Punchinella. She's so hypercritical, I can't say a word without her jumping down my throat."
"Suddenly Ovaltina hates me—she's even unfriended me on Facebook!"
It's developmentally appropriate for your newly-minted young adult to withdraw from the intense parent-child bonding of the past few months. But that doesn't make it easy. Parenthood is a long, slow process of loss—but your awareness doesn't make the loss less painful.
Now that the college decision is settled, you may feel as if you've lost a driving force in your own life. As September looms on the horizon, your child has a shiny new future to look forward to. For you, it's just the twigs and feathers of your empty nest. Well-meaning childless friends (or friends with younger children) will congratulate you for all the extra me-time you'll have on hand You can catch up on your golf! (More likely you can catch up with your job and housework.) Your own parents, because they didn't give much thought or energy to your college choices, may be frankly puzzled. Your best bet for camaraderie is other parents. But you'll get through it, even without others to talk to.
Think back on other transitions in your life. When my babies were tiny, I dreaded the day that they'd be weaned. But when the day arrived it went unnoticed because it was time; we were ready. It was the same for the first day of pre-school, for the transition from their beloved Suzuki repertoire to rigor of Ševcík and Schradieck. How I thought I would miss braiding my four little girls' hair every morning at the breakfast table—and, yes, remembering those moments does fill me with tender nostalgia—but when the time comes, the separation will feel right.
In your next phase as a music-parent, you'll not be needed to carpool to rehearsals, carry around gear like a pack-horse, or write checks to the teacher (except a big one, twice a year). You won't be attending every performance (or any, if you live too far away.) You won't get a full report after every lesson and masterclass. That's not necessary anymore. And it will be okay.
Last week I was standing on a busy train platform when my pocket started buzzing. I pulled out my phone and saw my daughter’s face flashing on the screen. Most other calls I’d let go to voicemail, to return at a quieter time, but this one I picked up.
“Hi, Mama! I need advice!”
My heart quickened—she still needs me! I glanced around for a phone booth, to quick-change into my old SuperMom costume. But, alas, in this digital age there are no more phone booths, even at train stations. And my SuperMom duds have been in mothballs for a few years anyway. So, I paced the platform, listening. Her problem was this: orange, sputtering water coming out of the tap in her 5th floor apartment. What should she do?
I can’t help her with her musical decisions anymore. But I can tell her what little I know about plumbing. "They're probably just doing some work on the pipes in your building, or flushing a hydrant on the street. Just let the water run clear and it should be fine in a few days."
We chatted for a minute (joy!) and then my train arrived.
"Everything should be fine," I repeated.
And, you know what? It was.
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Click here for a reference page to all of Karen Rile's series: A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions
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