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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Something I wish I had known in 1979


We dropped the second child off at college on Friday.

The first child was already there, well moved into her new apartment, full of the confidence one tends to get when one achieves senior-in-college status. But the second child is, I think, proportionately filled with intrigue and fear, and because the two of us are emotional clones, so am I.

Yesterday I felt like I had a slight flu.

"Oh," I said to myself. "That's right -- this is what happens sometimes when I think I can escape Actual Feelings. I feel like I have the flu."

And then I reminded myself that this is just how it works, at least for me. No big change in life may go unregistered by the mainframe. There is no way out of the mourning for whatever it is that has come to an end (for instance, my time as the center of my kids' universe). The mainframe insists: We Will Have Feelings.

This is OK, because what I know now that I didn't know in 1979, when I was a terrified (and, as it turned out, depressed) teenager being abandoned by my primary care units on the very same college campus where I dropped my kid off on Friday -- what I didn't know then is that feelings aren't dangerous.

Yes, this sounds stupid. We're supposed to know that, but I didn't. Back then, it all terrified me: the depression, the wonder, the loneliness-in-a-crowd thing, and the fear itself. So that first year was terrible.

What I want the second child to know are two things. The first: Unless you're a robot, or perhaps escaping some truly abusive home situation, you cannot avoid having a lot of strong feelings during times of big change. Like, say, going off to college for the first time. The feelings WILL BE HAD. Sometimes they'll feel like fear and loneliness. Sometimes they'll feel like fatigue or anxiousness. Some of them will be good and exhilarating. Many will. But there will likely be a storm of feelings in your first weeks and months.

The second thing is: The feelings are not dangerous, and they settle down as you settle in. It pays to notice and acknowledge them, but don't let them run away with your reason. Think of them as that friend who you love but who tends to tell little lies. You learned a long time ago that you can't totally rely on her. So you don't let her make the big decisions requiring good judgment.

You give the feelings a nod, when you're having them. You say to yourself, "Oh, that's right. I'm in the middle of a big new thing and this is normal." Then you suck it up and take a walk or do your homework or otherwise refocus on the kinds of things that make your higher self proud.

Had I known this in 1979, my first year would've been less dreadful and more fun. (It was some of both, by the way.) But I know this in 2013, and now so do you.

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