Acceptance Letters: Parents, college and letting go

Finding a Work-Life Balance

Elizabeth Weinstein
March 4, 2015

Our daughter is in her fourth and final year of college. Wow, how the heck did that happen? One minute it’s the week before kindergarten starts and she says, with some anxiety, “I know how to write my name and I know my address, but I can’t remember how the Earth was formed.” And suddenly, flash forward, it’s now: when she is too busy to come home for spring break because she’s finishing up her history honors thesis and waiting to hear the status of her Fulbright application.

In between there was lots of school, of course, but also lots of home. My husband and I are essentially domestic, small-town do-it-yourselfers, and when we weren’t working, we were doing a bunch of volunteer firefighting, house renovating, cooking, reading, writing emails, and inviting our friends over. Aside from his job (I am lucky enough to freelance), our time is very unstructured. Our daughter and her younger brother — who also goes to Kenyon — spent hours setting up block-and-animal villages, drawing, reading, running around outside, and doing nothing much. In other words, playing — by themselves, with each other, with friends. A few times before kindergarten started, I thought, “Should I be trying to teach her to read?” I made some flashcards and I tried. Once. Pat-mat-cat-rat … she didn’t like it and begged me to just “READ.” So I read aloud some more. I was too lazy to pursue it, thank goodness, because it all worked out without my tutorials.

My daughter knows she’ll need a job next year (if she doesn’t get the Fulbright) and she is thinking hard about it. So is her brother, even though his next job is for the summer, not the start of his career. Both my children have work-study jobs at Kenyon and so they’ve been aware right from the get-go what it’s like to have to get to work on time.

However, just as important are the non-paying, non-“required” activities, and though the study load is prodigious at Kenyon, I think our kids know this well and the college encourages the balance. Helping a friend, making cupcakes, volunteering on a play, going for a bike ride, petting the Crozier cat. It’s all important. Off they go, these seniors, into the land of debt and taxes and rent. And yet, in addition to knowing she must make a living, I think our daughter knows she will forge her version of at-home duties and community activities. She may not want to be a firefighter/EMT or serve on the library board, nor will she necessarily bake or split wood. She’s picked up some of our enthusiasms, but she’s got her own, thank goodness. I tried to teach her to read, but the rest is up to her.