October 30, 2008

Best Laid Plans

Next weekend, my oldest friend, Amir, is coming to visit from the east coast. I've known him since I was 15, when he became like a second brother to me and a second son in our family. We went through high school and college and marriages and children and we never had one single romantic encounter with each other, which I think is kind of cool.

This afternoon, he called to talk about his visit and, in and among other things, he asked me, "How's Matt doing?" I hate that question. I never know what to say, because the truth (as it is, warped and all, in my head) is very long and over-dramatic and completely draining on anyone who's listening. But saying, "He's great!" is such a total lie that I can hardly spit it out of my mouth. So I usually end up somewhere in between, with "He's good, you know, same old, same old." But Amir pushes it, asks me what's going on. I can't bear to tell him that I think he's on drugs, but I do talk a little about his withdrawal from our family and lack of motivation. Then he asks me,

"Well, is he looking at schools?"

"You're kidding, right?" I ask.

"Really? No? It's that bad?" He sounds sympathetic, disappointed, surprised. And this is where I want to take a double dose of Prozac and kick back a glass of wine, because the absurdity of the conversation I am about to have is killing me. My kid doesn't want to go to college, and that is considered to be within the realm of "that bad".

This is indicative of my upbringing more than anything else. When we were kids, going to college wasn't an option; the only option involved was which one. And even that was limited by the amount of influence our fathers had on our choices. Even those of us who weren't getting good enough grades to end up anywhere impressive (me) were working toward that goal. I just never knew any different.

And I was pretty sure that was how I was raising my own kids, until this year. (I understand that college isn't for everyone. My bias here is clear, I guess.) So when Amir asks about Matt, and if he's looking at colleges, my throat tightens up. I want to be able to say yes. I want to be able to say that the dream he's had since he was five years old, of going to Annapolis and becoming a Navy pilot, has not entirely disappeared. It's not about pride. It's not that I want to brag, I just want to be able to say something definitive. Something better than just no. Amir starts to tell me about the sons of two of our mutual friends from long ago, both the same age as Matt. He says it's been so interesting watching the three of them grow into such different kinds of kids. I know he's not trying to be judgemental. I know I'm hearing things he's not saying (or meaning) but I can't help feeling defeated and defensive when he tells me that Zach might come up north to go to school at Ivy League U, and John's looking at The Air Force Academy, or whatever school his dad went to. I just want to tell him to shut up. But then he says "No worries, Matt just needs to find his bliss." Yeah. I think he's finding it, right now. Down at the river, behind the school, with a bunch of trailer trash losers.

I love my son. God, I love him so much it kills me. I think he's brilliant and I think he's funnier than hell. He's kind and generous and all good things you want your kid to be. But I also think he's lost. I know, I have a propensity for making mountains out of molehills. I am grateful he's in school every day. He's not in jail. He's still got half-way decent grades. Still, I want the very best for him. I want him to go to college, then drive off into Alaska in a school bus if that's what he wants to do. Or flip burgers or work on cars. I really don't care. More than anything, I want him to have choices. I want him to be able to wake up when he's my age and change his entire career if he wants to, simply because he can. I just don't want him to give up now. Not yet.

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