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We Love You -- Now Go

January 01, 2003

One hidden joy of the much-anticipated holiday visits home by college students is the secretly anticipated departure soon of these same sudden geniuses. Not that we don't love them dearly, devotedly, desperately -- especially when they're distant. It's just that we might not be overly fond of this particular know-it-all stage in their lives. They blow into town and their old room with the now-dated posters and sound so ready to opine and share their newfound wisdom with the instantly ignorant adults who are financing this knowledge acquisition.

It's another stage in their lives, to be sure. Perfectly normal. They're so tiny at life's start, so totally dependent. Slowly, then faster as all endure the long emotional hallways of teenhood, they start learning. It's cute at first: how to talk, how to walk. It's awkward when they offer a public opinion on someone's girth or fragrance. In high school their embarrassment at actually having parents can be intense. Exiting the parent's car at school requires turning down the radio so absolutely no one will know that classical music ever touched their ears.

Then these young adults seek to do things themselves, which is normal and all. But frankly, parents' profound satisfaction at producing an independent human can also involve mourning over loss of the dependent relationship. Holidays can be awkward. The onetime youngsters want to show their new independence, and we want to cloak their visit in devotion and care.

It's shocking for parents to confront how much their offspring have learned from other influences distant in miles and perhaps values. The kid spends one lousy term away at someplace with quadrangles and teachers wearing leather elbows and suddenly the parents are totally ignorant. It's amazing how much obnoxious intelligence $15,000 buys these days. Imagine how smart he or she will be when you're 100 grand poorer.

It's one thing to hear an 18-year-old's critical analysis of the root causes of the 1848 Revolution, which you might have forgotten while changing diapers and earning the money to buy them. We're silently patient listening attentively to how wrong wrong wrong our generation was in Vietnam. We're quietly proud over foreign languages now dropping off the same tongue we trained to say "Dada" and "Mama." We anticipate a plea for extra money, despite the wallet holders' profound parental stupidity.

But to be candid, what's most worrisome is to hear these aspiring intellectuals speak glibly of people and places we know naught of. Friends whose parents we do not know. Teachers we have not met. Places we haven't scouted. It's all meant to impress. It can. But awareness of new uncontrolled influences also terrifies grown-ups who still speak possessively of "my child." It's wrenching not to be an intimate part of the discoveries anymore, to be outgrowing mutual dependencies. Becoming a wiser supportive spectator to an unfolding life is the parent's homework assignment for the new semester.

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