Your Daughter's Left For College? Cry Me A River


This column’s title pretty much says it all: “My Universe Loses a Star“. The Drama (or lack thereof) of the empty nester leaves us thinking, rather ungenerously, “And we should care because…?”

Don’t get me wrong, I often enjoy Michelle Slatalla‘s cozy domestic column. But this one? Not so much. In this installment, Slatalla’s eldest daughter has left for college. Or, I guess, her second year.

Everybody makes a fuss when you send a child off to college for the first time. You’re expected to feel pangs when you separate from a freshman. But that turns out to be not so bad, because those feelings are tempered by the excitement of propelling a child to an entirely new phase of life. Waving goodbye at the end of sophomore winter break turns out to be much harder.It’s kind of like how your friends throw a big birthday party to cushion the blow when you turn 30. But then nobody shows up for 31 or 33 — which, arguably, are much worse — and you’re left to face the growing realization that you’re headed for 41.It is dawning on me, as time goes by and Zoe starts to come home for shorter periods and to call less often, that the center of gravity of her life has shifted away.

Yes, change is hard. Children leaving, as has been noted a time or two, is a time for melancholy recollection on the sunrise-sunsetting of the years. Of course, it’s a lot easier now than back in the day! Cue the post-Boomer self-congratulation:

Stephanie Coontz, a family historian, said that luckily our generation of parents may not need to [cling to their kids], thanks to our enlightened child-rearing techniques that allowed children to begin asserting their independence at an early age. ‘There may have been more tension when they were young because they weren’t being controlled as much as previous generations,’ she said, ‘but what that also means is that they’ll be more willing to come back to you later, as friends.’

Maybe I’m in a cranky mood, but my golly! We should be so lucky! I am not normally of the starving-children-in-Africa-clean-your-plate school of illogic, but does this lady have any idea how many children would love to go to school, how many, many generations couldn’t? Mourning their loss in the home is rank luxury! Which is, of course, a deeply unfair line of logic: Slatalla’s emotions are valid, as are those of everyone who’s experienced the same thing. I think what rubs is the myopia of the piece: Slatalla says she sympathizes with famed “helicopter parent” Sara Roosevelt, but uses this as a jumping-off point, not for a real look at changing mores, but as no more than an examination of her own emotions. (After all, it’s not like that level of attention worked out so badly for Franklin: discuss?) Maybe that’s what’s frustrating: you feel there’s a chance for something interesting and instead she retreats into her own experience, which is, at the end of the day, pretty much like everyone else’s. Is that a crime? Of course not. But it’s still a disappointment.

My Universe Loses a Star [New York Times]

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