FEATURE — Bills and junk. That’s what’s usually in our family mailbox.
Until four weeks ago when the likes of Penn State, Arizona State, Oregon State and Purdue started joining the mix.
I don’t remember feeling this excited about mail since I first discovered the oversized golden Publishers Clearing House envelopes at age seven. I mean, we were talking about a triple sweepstakes giveaway with no strings attached right in my very own sun-worn black mailbox!
Those golden envelopes weren’t addressed to me, but that wasn’t a problem as far as I saw it.
All I had to do was pick a few magazines and lick a few stamps, both of which were totally within my seven-year-old skill set. I was sure my family would thank me when we won the big money. Or the big trip. Or the new sailboat.
Spoiler alert: We didn’t win any of that.
I did, however, win some good old-fashioned grounding soon after my mom started receiving magazine after unsolicited magazine. I’m pretty sure it took her half a dozen hours of haggling over the phone to get all of the subscriptions canceled (Sorry, mom).
The big envelopes landing in my mailbox these days still aren’t for me – they’re for my high school senior – but they do hold college admissions offers, which is a triple sweepstakes of a different sort: A college education, moving away from home and real independence.
My boy is hungry for it all.
Especially after the year he’s had. A year where he feels like everything shrunk, including him.
Earlier this week, this same boy opened a letter he’d written to himself in the spring of ninth grade. It had been an assignment for his language arts class (bless that teacher) and he opened it with some trepidation. “I don’t remember what I wrote,” he confided to me. “What if it’s totally worthless?”
But it wasn’t. What it was a snapshot of who he’d been at 14 – what was important to him and how he hoped to grow, both figuratively and literally.
Among other things, it contained the name of the girl he was in love with and a promise that he’d never forgive his parents if we moved to Denver (which we’d been considering at the time).
It also documented his weight (100 pounds), height (five feet flat) and Snapchat score (something in the thousands), all of which have increased between then and now. All to his great satisfaction.
More than what the letter said, the letter got him – and me – thinking about what’s happened between then and now.
Since then, he’s lost a best friend to suicide. He’s had his heart broken by a girl his dad and I didn’t really like. And he broke a girl’s heart who we really did like. A lot.
He got his first job. He got his first car. He made the Junior National Gymnastics team three more times.
He earned a bronze medal at a world championship in Bulgaria, a silver at the Spanish World Cup and skimmed his fingers on the mat at the world championships in Japan and didn’t even make the finals.
He earned A’s in classes like AP Physics, AP History and Welding I, II and III. He also earned a B- in PE because he wasn’t in class for participation points while he was competing at gymnastics meets. And, to his utter embarrassment, he earned a D one term of AP Environmental Science because he got behind and gave up on himself.
So many hard things. So many beautiful experiences. So many lessons. Some I would have chosen for him. Some I would have wished away if I could. But that’s not how any of this works.
Now a senior, my boy finds himself about to start another four-year period. Of growth. Of beauty. Of hardship. Of change.
But first, he must make a choice.
I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous about where he’ll choose to go. The choice feels so big. Like it will determine everything. Everything.
What if he chooses wrong? What if he chooses right and it still all goes wrong? Is he ready for that? Am I?
“Oh, the places you will go,” Dr. Suess would say. Now, I just need to let him go.
But first, he probably should write himself another letter. Because then, wherever it is he goes, we’ll remember where he was at this next beginning.
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