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Superstar Falls to Earth

When Lucas went away for his first year of college I had a lot of friends and family asking, “How does Lucas like college?”  Their faces always looked so hopeful, expecting good news.

I knew they wanted me to say, “Great!”  But it wasn’t great.  I was getting almost daily calls from my over achiever about how miserable he was. He was under the impression that this was going to be the greatest time of his life.  He had worked hard at school, joined clubs, played sports, all with the expectation that he would get into a good college and have the best time ever!  He and his roommate would be best friends, no parents or little brothers around.  College was going to be amazing.  But it wasn’t. Had he really worked so hard for this?  Had he really moved three thousand miles away?  How could the college life he had envisioned be so different from what was?

Lucas had been in college for about a month when he started calling me.  Now he had called me before, but the conversations were always, “I’ll be late for dinner.  Can I go to Jonathan’s house?”  It was information, it wasn’t conversation.

But now he was calling from college and he just wanted to talk.  It was about the second or third conversation when he finally broke down, “Mom, I hate it here.  I eat by myself.  My roommate is never home.  The people are different.  It’s cold.”

“I thought you said you liked cold?” I answered.  “It’s only October.”

“I changed my mind.” was his response.  “What are you doing?” he wanted to know.

“Ah…watching Ben play t-ball”

“I wish I was there.  I could help teach.”

“Lucas, I thought the reason you didn’t want to go to Berkeley was because you didn’t want to be invited to your brothers’ birthdays.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “I can’t believe I could be in Berkeley right now.”

“Do you want to transfer to Berkeley?” I asked.

“No.” he said. “I’m just so lonely.”

He needed me!  He who was one of the most capable people I had ever known was asking for my help.  I was heartbroken.  I was inspired.  I was necessary.  I went right to work, collecting items for the perfect care packages. Lucas’ favorite item was a box of pears. To buy pears from Amazon click here  I called his grandparents, his aunts, his friends parents.  “Lucas needs us.”  I said.  And they were there.  And we were sending love and gifts and words of encouragement.

I developed a rapport with my son that autumn.  We got in the habit of talking, sometimes he just wanted to listen. I would talk about what I was making for dinner, or who I was transporting to this or that event.  But sometimes he would actually talk about his concerns.

“Mom, I hate having to pretend to be happy.”

My response, “Stop pretending to be happy.  Be unhappy and then move on with your day.  What if everyone at school is pretending to be happy?  It’s no wonder you can’t find anyone who is real.  You aren’t being true.  Your unhappiness is just seeping out of you.”

I talked and talked and talked.  I told Lucas that everyone has this period in their lives and that he’s just having it now.  I told him that when I had spent a year in Australia I felt like I was on Mars, and I woke up every morning with zero expectations, because I was on Mars.  I told him to try and do the same thing.  “Don’t wake up and think it’s supposed to be a certain way, because you’re on Mars, and you just have to take things for what they are.  Meet them as they are presented to you.”

I pulled out all the stops.  I didn’t know if anything I was telling him would resonate, so I just kept trying different anecdotes.  “College is not supposed to be an extension of high school.  You are supposed to get out of your comfort zone.  Most of your learning won’t come from the classroom.  You go to the gym.” I told him.  “If it doesn’t hurt you’re not getting stronger, and it is the same with going to college.   The only way to grow and stretch and be better than you were is for it to hurt a little, or maybe a lot.”

It was a very tough semester, but it was a wonderful semester.  He learned the value of his home and his family.  He learned that annoying younger brothers brought their own amusements and joy.  He was humbled, he was kind, he was appreciative, he was grateful.  Sigh, lessons learned.

Getting An “F” Senior Year. Does It Matter?

My college bound son received an “F” in Physics on his final report card.  We received this information two days after he “walked” and received his high school diploma.  His father and I were both shocked that he had allowed this to happen.  He was a smart boy.  He knew how much energy and effort it would take to get an A or a B.  And if he was unwilling to put in that much effort, he at least knew how much time it would take to get a C, to pass the class.  It never occurred to me, or his father, that he would just blow off the class completely.  Not with college on the line, not with the amount of effort and expense he had invested into getting into a good school, the school of his choice.

But we were wrong.  And in a way, he was right.  He could ignore the requests from his teacher to turn in his homework, to complete his class assignments.  His teacher called his bluff and failed him.  But what happened? NOTHING!  He was still able to graduate with his class!  He was still going to his chosen University!  How could this be?!

His father and I discussed this phenomenon and although we were relieved that he had graduated, and would be going to college, we agreed that the wrong lesson was being taught.  We agreed that we had one last summer to impose consequences on our son, who still seemed to think his actions or inaction was “no big deal.”

The bigger issue for us was the manner in which he chose to deal with the challenge.  He wasn’t doing well in the class, then he got sick, got really behind, and then, at that point, decided to do nothing.  To ignore.  To deny.  He told both of us repeatedly that he was on top of his school work, that he had everything handled.  But clearly he did not.  Our concern was his reaction, or lack thereof to the problem, because there would always be another.

It is funny because his school has a parent portal.  A way to check on your student’s progress every day.  Every missing assignment, every grade, every paper that is due.  I looked at this portal regularly Freshman year, sporadically Sophomore year and stopped entirely Junior and Senior year.  He needed to manage his own school work.  I needed to allow him to develop the necessary skills to go off to college, to own his own decisions.  But then, the “F”.  No, he wasn’t ready.  Yes, we needed to step in and require consequences.

These were the conditions that we set for the last summer:

  1.  No car.  No friends.  No socializing.
  2. Write a letter to his teacher apologizing for his complete disregard for his class.
  3. Take a summer physics course to be completed before school starts in the fall.
  4. Research all resources available at his University and send us a letter with this information.
  5. Write a paper on the benefits of failing.

He is sitting beside me now, taking his on-line physics course.  I am hopeful that next time he chooses to ask for help.  I am hopeful that he recognizes the gravity of his decision to ignore.  I am grateful for the opportunity to teach him one more lesson before he goes.