Raise Good Humans
What I learned when my kids said college wasn’t for them
The other day, I saw this bumper sticker. Raise Good Humans. Crisp white font on a plain black background. Its simplicity stunned me, shuttled me back in time.
When she called in tears that autumn day in 2017, my daughter 3,000 miles away, a freshman at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, I was concerned, of course, but also confused. What did she mean she was falling apart, needed to come home for the weekend?
My husband and I had been there three weeks earlier for parents’ weekend and her glow! her joy! She had friends and fun, intellectual stimulation and academic challenge. Her second week there, her advisor selected her to be one of five students having dinner at the college president’s house. Five freshmen, the president, and his wife. After dinner, when the wife asked the students if they had any criticisms of the school, my daughter was the only one to respond. “Not a single bathroom on campus has tampons or pads. They should be free and accessible.”
I mean. Badass. Thriving. Promising. So what had changed?
Depression and anxiety have a funny way of working, an insidious way of doing business, of derailing plans, deflecting dreams, dismantling hope. And even when you think you have conquered them, figured them out, they will morph again and again until you accept — surrender — that living with mental illness will never be a straight line.
Several months later, my daughter returned home for good. She wrote a stunning essay about her experience leaving school, about depression, anxiety, and refusing to see herself as a failure. But it took a few years before she regained solid footing, before my shining daughter returned to the light.
I filled those years with so many mistakes — driven by fear and ego. I mean, the mommy and me’s and Gymborees, summer camps and sing-alongs, private schools, parenting books, tutors, tests, softball, sleepovers, love, and love and more love, they weren’t supposed to end up here, with me, terrified, standing in her bedroom doorway yelling, “Get the hell up, you’ve been sleeping all day!”
I struggled to shut out the noise, the chatter of expectation and grief and fear. I…