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By Shelley Murphy
February is the month many people associate with the slinging of arrows from Cupid’s bow, but for some high school seniors and their parents, it’s a month of sitting on collegiate pins and needles.
National Signing Day, on Feb. 1, saw 20 senior student-athletes at San Clemente High School committing to attend various universities while sporting their new collegiate colors. Seniors still in limbo stood by watching the ceremony, and it appeared as if they were wishing that they too knew which college sweatshirt they’d be wearing in the fall.
My younger son is a college sophomore, but it seems like yesterday he counted himself among the seniors anxiously awaiting a coveted college acceptance letter and fearing a crushing rejection letter.
Universities still send their traditional, telltale thick or thin envelopes found in the mailbox, but more often, college applicants first find a message in their inbox announcing their fate. I remember my younger son texting me from class one February morning to tell me he’d finally received an email from a California university announcing his acceptance.
His excitement matched my melancholy, and I felt the familiar pit starting to form in my stomach. It wasn’t my first rodeo, and I knew the day’s exciting college welcome would end several months later with a tearful campus goodbye.
February finds seniors finishing their last semesters of high school. The remaining months of their school years will be spent celebrating bittersweet milestones and marking the “lasts” of high school. I commemorated all of my boys’ sentimental senior lasts: the last prom pictures at Pines Park, the last sports banquet with teammates and the tear-jerking last birthdays at home.
Parents with an eye on the calendar know the graduation that once seemed far off in the future is speeding forward like an oncoming freight train. When my boys were seniors and graduation crept closer, I wished I could stop the clock.
My boys’ graduations remind me of reading a book that I don’t want to end. I try to slow my reading so the story continues, but I can’t stop turning the pages. I’m so invested in the characters that I need to know what happens to them next. So, I keep reading, and too soon I’ve reached the end of the story. I close the book, yearning for more and certain I’ll never read another book as extraordinary. Then I reluctantly put the book away and begin a new one.
I empathize with parents sending their seniors off to school in the fall. When my sons left for college, I worried that I’d become as unnecessary as their old high school gym clothes.
Each of their college acceptances reminded me that my boys were moving farther away from me and closer to an unfamiliar place where they’d need me less and I’d know them less.
Soon they’d be living in dorms with students I wouldn’t know and attending classes I’d probably never hear about. I pined for the days of playdates when I picked their friends and knew more about the details of my sons’ days.
Fortunately, my worry proved unnecessary.
True, my boys no longer need me for the mundane tasks like finding misplaced keys. But they know they can still count on me to be their sounding board and chief cheerleader. They know I’m ready to answer their phone calls hailing the highs and lamenting the lows.
And when they return to the nest, I’m there waiting with open arms. My boys still return home lugging a mountain of laundry, or craving a home-cooked meal, or simply seeking comforting support.
The college countdown is a conflicting time for parents, one of mixed emotions. The good news is that your kid is about to leave home for college and the bad news is that your kid is about to leave home for college.
Soon the agonizing wait felt in February gives way to summer festivities celebrating the lasts of senior year and the start of an extraordinary new chapter for students and parents.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 17 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.