Saturday, December 5, 2015

I Guard the Tree

My 1st college semester of not going to college has been an important experience. I'd like to share why...

I've always told my kids that they were going to college within driving distance of home. Family is foundational to our lives. Yes. Each of us are talented enough, confident enough, strong enough, intuitive enough to do whatever we want to do independent of each other. But WHY?! If God called us to situations that required it, we could each do it. But we have found great fulfillment in the strength that ONLY togetherness as a family can provide. That unity has been tried and has experienced some fairly severe blows. During these times of pain and fresh wounds we've experienced thoughts and ideas that getting away from the family nucleus may be the best thing after all. But, those were thoughts birthed out of pain and confusion. So, our habit is to WAIT until health comes to redetermine those kinds of plans. And thus far, it's always been best to stay put and work on in our unique family-state. 

Besides, as difficult as it can be to work and abide as such a tight-knit family, I have friends without family. And they listen to my periodic complaints and want to smack me upside my forehead for making a mountain out of a molehill. They find my worst difficulties pleasant and worthy of postcard beauty. So, I appreciate the shoulder they've provided, then shut up. 

My kids were always told, "You're going to college within driving distance of home." So, when my daughter was awarded a combined $40k a year scholarship to a private college within driving distance, we were thrilled and thankful. The school had a rule that would force an experience I had never in a million years considered. The rule was that the student had to live in the dorms, or with parents within 50 miles of the school. Our house is 70 miles from the school. 

For her to live in the dorms just wasn't an option for us. Through my experiences in campus ministry, there was NO WAY I would release my prized possession into such a shark tank. There is no policy so strict (even in church camp dorms!) that can circumvent human nature. It's just the nature of dorm life. My nature and that nature shall never cohabitate. 

I've heard Bible scholars teach that Adam was suppose to protect Eve from the experience at the Tree of The Knowledge of Good And Evil. They've said, "Where was Adam? He was her protector. He was the one to whom God gave instruction. Why was Eve at that tree alone?!", And since we all know that a woman will do what a woman wants to do, if he'd at least have been present and close enough to be a voice to warn her, that may have made a huge difference in the outcome. Regardless, that's a lesson I've taken to heart. As a mother, it's always been my job to protect my children. I will stand guard at this tree. 

I'm aware that a child can be bad right under the noses of their parents. I'm aware spouses can cheat in direct sight of their spouse. I'm aware addicts can get their fix within arms reach of their protector. People do what they want. But, I'm not of an opinion that I should make it EASY for someone in my life to self-destruct. I've experienced being saved from a dark place. I am so exceedingly grateful those people didn't give up on me. It's far easier to keep someone from stumbling into that hole, than it is to dig them out. In fact, in my experience, once someone falls into that hole, all the rescue in the world is nothing if they do not also attempt to dig themselves out. 

College dorms were not a possibility in my world. So, for the first time in my forty-two years of life, I went to college. Not as a student, but as a mom. I rented a one bedroom, one bath duplex. The kitchen is the size of my walk-in closet. My SMALL walk-in closet. I'm from the country where my water was free. Now I'm paying for every little drop. I sleep on a trundle bed beneath my child. I pack to come home every week and am pretty good at living out of my suitcase. It's a most uncomfortable, expensive way of life. But I'm the voice she hears in the morning telling her I love her and I'm praying for her. EVERY DAY. I'm in the house when she walks in and chucks her heavy backpack on the couch. I'm smiling and asking how her day was. Stability. Accountability. 

It is in no way "the same" as when she was in high school. I'm definitely less of the authority and more of a partner. It's a unique setting. She called me "mom" all through middle and high school. It was who I was. I loved it. But she literally calls me "mommy" in the tenderest tones now. It seems as though her maturity has erased whatever stigma a child feels in using the more elementary term. I love it even more. I feel my role is more of a "Jiminy Cricket conscience," than the because-I-said-so mom role. I try to think of myself as her mentor with more words and counsel than as the Queen on the throne with the power to pronounce, "Off with her head!" She KNOWS the bottomline is truly, "because I said." But it's not the environment of our college life. 

We talk about her classes and projects. I hear about ideas and philosophies that are contrary to God's Word. She knows quickly the topics that concern me. We don't have to wait until the weekend to discuss seeds that were sown into her thinking in class. These conversations naturally put us in a setting that causes her to reassure me of her knowledge of truth. I LOVE that out of her own mouth, within hours of classes, she gets to counter philosophy with knowledge and wisdom. 

But the decision for me to go to college with my daughter actually goes beyond salvation of soul. Half of college scholarships are lost at winter break, tied to "homesickness." People may think it's expensive to go to college with their kid, but it seems to me that the loss of a scholarship is even more costly. You see, an "age" is not a magic wand making a person's need for the stability & accountability of family and friends non-existent. That 17, 18, or 19 year old doesn't suddenly not need the comforts of home because society has an educational system we have to function within. (A system, by the way, that is NOT bible-based, NOT family-based, NOT morally-based.) These scholarships are lost because the emotional strain on a person fresh out of high school, plunged into a strange new world is intense. So intense that listening and retaining in class is far more difficult than it was in high school. Studying is attempted under the weight of depression and anxiety. Nervousness ALL triggered by the simple loss of rigid parents, annoying siblings, and the drama of friends. Everybody assumes getting away from these home-pressures makes college life easier. But it's rarely the case. These elements, though weights, were routines which anchored the soul and mind more than is realized.

Imagine how nervous you are when you get a new job. The routines of the workplace are all different. And yes, the annoying people from the past workplace are out of your way, but now there is a whole new batch of people to get to know. After that kind of stressful day at your new job, imagine that you don't have the comfort of home to return to. You're returning to a bunch more strangers, and not only do you have a new social structure to fit into at the new job, but now you do at "home" as well. 

There's a powerful refuge found in smells, and sounds, and even the familiar textures your skin is used to feeling. "Home" is more than the building, but it IS the building too. And the comfort of the same-old junk drawer, and the same-old stain on a carpet. The voices, the textiles, the smells; all of these (and more) make returning to the difficulties of the outside world tolerable. When we remove this place of refuge from the equation, we've tremendously jacked-up the stress levels of what happens in the wide-world.

I've been pecking away at pieces of this blog here and there for a few weeks now. But I awoke this morning to an article in the Orlando Sentinal that prompted me to wrap this up. It was a story about how diligent colleges and police departments must be at this time of year. Due to final exams, and kids going home to face parents, the suicide rate goes up. Police officers have the very unpleasant duty of Baker Act-ing students who've attempted suicide. These bright students who earned scholarships were shell-shocked by their inability to focus on learning in their fish-out-of-water environment. 

Can kids suck it up and just do college on their own? Of course. But sometimes the brightest of them falter. When they can't, yet another slam to their dreams and self-confidence is endured. Some kids never get over the "failure," and every job interview, every relationship, every dream is tempered by the "college failure," experience. I've told Morgan over, & over that giving up the scholarship, & taking time off from school IS NOT FAILURE. It's wisdom & courage when it's a thought-through decision. But internally I know she'd have a far more difficult time regathering her self-confidence if emotions, moods, or friendships derailed her. We've experienced a few hiccups. Situations that I KNOW my presence made all the difference in the world.

In essence, the college is paying my 18 year old $40k a year to attend their school. That's a serious income for such a young person! OF COURSE I'm going to be the first & last voice she hears each day. And I'm not going to give the enemy of her soul a chance to slip in during this vulnerable time-period either. This operation takes all-hands-on-deck. I've not gotten a child off my plate by sending her off to college, I've upped my responsibility. If THEY see $40k worth of potential in my child, I will not cease to realize MY impact in this person's life as well. 

Is living out of a suitcase, and paying rent on a second home the only way to accomplish this? No. If they didn't have that "dorm rule," I woudn't be. But she WOULD BE driving back and forth, and the fuel costs, not to mention time on the road taking from study, would be costly. It all comes out fairly even. I'm super thankful for the opportunity to be present when warning signs have popped up. I don't think I'm doing all of this perfectly, I seek prayer and counsel often. But, I want to do the best that I can to provide the stability and accountability for her to properly handle this "Tree Of the Knowledge Of Good And Evil."

My child does not have a choice in this matter.

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