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So Your Kid’s Off to College

College admissions acceptance processYour child has been accepted and the college has your deposit. Enjoy these last few months before they go to school, because once they leave they never really come back. Andrew Ferguson, author of Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College, explains.

“Most of what you can do you’ve already done,” a friend of mine said. We were in a skylit restaurant, fresh flowers on the table, seeming more spring than the beginning of the end of summer. “From now on you’re pretty much limited to writing checks, assuming you can.”

We were talking about parenthood. His own children were grown and long out of college. He’d told me a story about his son. Thirty years ago or more, when his son was very young, they had tried out a new cassette recorder by listening to a spoken-word tape of “Babylon Revisited,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story from the 1930s about a divorced and dissipated writer trying to put his life together after the wild ride of the Roaring Twenties. He lost his money in the stock market crash, the character says at the story’s close. “But I lost everything I wanted in the boom.”

Now my friend’s son is a stockbroker, making fancy money and surrounded by other people making fancy money, a lot of them blowing it on things — drugs and drink, mostly — that put them at risk of losing other things that, someday, they will truly want, the things that matter. My friend’s son told him the Fitzgerald line comes back to him day by day, thirty years later, as a reminder of what counts and how easily it can be lost.

“Now, here’s what’s interesting,” my friend said. “I’d forgotten all about the story, listening to it, it was so long ago. But it’s something he’ll never forget. It shows how powerful we are as parents. What’s nothing to you could be everything to them — some trifling event that you’ll never remember might be a turning point in how they see the world. They don’t miss anything, especially when they’re very young. But you’ve got no way of knowing what will stick. It might be a casual remark in the car driving them someplace.”

My son was about to leave home for college, and my daughter was not far behind. A phase of life — the most important part of it, the years of rearing children — was coming to an end. All along the stakes had been very high, a fact I didn’t dwell on once I began my life as a parent. If parents thought too much about it, we would work ourselves into paralysis, afraid to make a wrong move or utter a misbegotten syllable.

“And after a while it’s too late,” my friend said. “Once they leave — and he’s leaving soon, isn’t he?”

A few weeks, I said.

“Once they leave, they never really come back. Not really. Not even if he graduates with a degree in art history and God forbid wants to move back home and sleep on a futon in your basement. In some essential way he’s gone for good.”

He smiled and stretched his arms forward in a futile gesture: “Beyond your grasp!”

Andrew Ferguson, author of Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College (Copyright © 2011 by Andrew Ferguson), is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and author of Fools’ Names, Fools’ Faces, a collection of essays, and Land of Lincoln, named by The Wall Street Journal and The Chicago Tribune as a Favorite Book of the Year.



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