This past weekend Opa and I drove Stefan, our firstborn grandchild, up to Oswego, where he’ll be studying this fall at this branch of The State University of New York. Oswego is a “partner school” of Osnabrueck University in Germany, where Stefan is pursuing a degree in Cognitive Science (an interdisciplinary approach to studying the mind, with an emphasis on the interaction of people with computers). As an exchange student, he can pursue the same basic curriculum and get credits toward graduation.
It’s very different taking this grandchild generation to school than it was when we took our daughters. I remember very well when we drove Nancy, our firstborn, to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and I didn’t anticipate what a wrench it would be. We had two younger daughters at home, I was deeply involved in my writing career as well as my family, and thoughts of an “empty nest” were far from my mind. But then, much to my surprise, after we came home from Ohio, I went to the supermarket here on Long Island, saw someone I barely knew, told her about taking Nancy to college – and burst into tears. An era had ended. While I may not have shed tears in public after taking our younger daughters to college in their turns just a few years later, each one brought the mixed feelings of satisfaction that our major parenting jobs were coming to an end (we thought), along with a feeling of loss that our major parenting jobs were behind us (we thought).
One big difference, of course, is that Stefan and his sisters have not lived with us. They have lived an ocean away, so actually up at school Stefan is geographically closer than he has ever been. Another difference is that Stefan did not go to college directly from high school as all our daughters did. But the biggest difference is – as I have told interviewers who have asked, “How is being a grandmother different from being a mother?” – as a grandmother you don’t worry so much. You’ve been there before, you have confidence that obstacles can be overcome, and that challenges become growth experiences more often than they become problems.