We’re on a college visit for the caboose.
If this sounds fun, or exciting, or even mildly interesting, let me remind you that I am in my fourth round of this game, one that began a lifetime ago, in 2007. The three oldest kids were closer in age, and we did college visits and applications in a revolving door for six years. I was pretty invested in the whole thing when it began, and exhausted when it was over, I welcomed the six-year break we would be allowed before we would have to begin the process for the final time for my youngest, the caboose.
“A lot of my friends are starting to look at colleges,” she told me one day last year. She was using the gentle, worried voice that she uses when she is pretty sure that I have missed a deadline: signing her up for the thing, returning the required form and payment, submitting a baby picture from the few I have of her and even fewer that I can put my hands on. Her concern has traditionally been met with a convincing veteran-mom, not-my-first-rodeo routine, in which I wave my hand dismissively, reminding her that I have known the lady in charge for years and confidently declaring that I will be granted amnesty. But this time, when I started with “Pshaw!”, she looked at me dubiously. “It’s only sophomore year,” I continued weakly, suddenly feeling like the teenager in the conversation, sticking my chin out for emphasis. “We don’t have to start yet. We have plenty of time!”
She met my gaze. “Hm.” was all she said.
I thought for a minute. Were we behind? Should we be starting? No! That was crazy!
For one thing, we were veterans; we had done this three times before, knew what we were doing. Also, we deserved as long a break as we could muster, could do it with one hand behind our backs! I might not actually know the lady, but in the big picture, I knew the lady. Even if we scrambled at the last minute, we would not miss the deadline. We would get it in in time.
Also, this search was going to be easy. Our caboose has been “visiting college campuses”, by my calculations, since she was five. She has sat through info sessions which interrupted family vacations, sauntered through manicured campuses at graduations, and eagerly looked forward to Family Weekends in the fall. Her drawers are full of spirit wear from higher institutions of learning up and down the East Coast. When I asked her if she’d like to consider a beautiful college in neighboring state, one which two of her siblings had attended and loved, she said simply, “Ugh. No. I’ve been to that campus too many times. No.” See? Progress.
Besides, I had already begun the process in my mind, and had a list of schools started in my head, mostly in a nearby city, easily within driving distance. It is close enough, I explained to my youngest, that I might be able to, you know, come and see her sometimes, take her to lunch on a Saturday now and then. Wouldn’t that be fun?
“Hm,” was all she said.
Suddenly, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t just expertise that kept me from starting to look. Could it be that in my constant, eager, and well deserved pursuit of the elusive but ever-nearing empty nest, I had failed to notice the obvious loss, the subconscious avoidance? Was there really, after all this time, all this looking forward, something more there, a reason I’d put it off?
This is not my first rodeo; that is true. But it suddenly occurs to me that it really is my last.
Those eight seconds can feel like an eternity when you’re in it, but really, it goes by pretty fast.