Milestones. That’s an interesting word, isn’t it? Especially when you’re a parent.
I mean, it can apply to so many different things. Like, maybe it’s your baby’s first steps or words or solid foods. Or it could be your daughter’s first date or her first ATM card or your toddler finally being able to blow the gunk out of his nose on his own. (That’s a big one.) There are tons of scenarios. Way too many to list off here.
And what I find funny—well, maybe more interesting than funny—is that every one of these landmarks produces a very specific kind of reaction from us. And those reactions can range from absolute joy all the way to full-on-sweaty-palms panic. And everything in between.
Webster’s defines milestones as a very important event or advance. But as far as I’m concerned, at this particular moment in my life, I define it with one simple word. College.
It’s almost impossible to wade through all the sensations attached to watching your first kid click the Submit button on her college applications. It’s weird, because in that tiny moment, while her finger is hovering above the Enter button, all the other milestones you’ve ever gone through as a parent just rush your brain all at once, sort of like a massive blitz on the QB. And in just that split second, while her finger is coming down on the key, your mind goes back to when they were little and still doing a commando crawl around the living room. It flashes to them eating Gerber oatmeal and bananas and taking their first steps and pooping on your duvet for the first time. Good times. Gooooood times.
And while every milestone is significant, this one in particular’s got real teeth, as far as milestones go. It clamps its spikey canines down right around your heart and just bites straight through all the soft tissue in an explosion of emotions. In fact, so much stuff is simultaneously released from the heart at that moment that you almost expect it to stop beating. Yet somehow, it keeps going.
One thing I didn’t expect, though, when Riley finally pressed the button and sent all of her applications up into the cloud, was the overwhelming sense of anticlimacticness. I guess on some level I always imagined that a milestone this big would automatically come with a full fireworks display shooting up from her laptop and at least a high-school-level marching band parading through the kitchen playing Celebration. But it didn’t happen. There were just crickets. Lots of crickets.
I also expected that she’d somehow feel the significance of the milestone the same way I was. You know, in a way that compelled her to want to sit on my lap and burry her head in my neck and want to be snuggled and kissed on the forehead. (I have a slightly overzealous imagination.) Needless to say, I practically had to manhandle her to get a quick kiss before she left for work. I figured out later that what she was actually relishing in was the feeling of finally being free of the ball and chain that is The Common Application.
That’s when I had to remind myself that we all transition through these big moments in our life very differently depending on which side of the viewfinder we’re on. Because as much as I wish that we were all in sync with the way we perceive and feel these big milestones, we’re just not.
When we’re kids, we don’t pay too much attention to the big moments, or, for that matter, anything beyond Friday Night Football and not running out of concealer. As adults, though, we’re hyper-aware of every single second of time with our kids, especially these big life-defining moments. And I suppose that’s just the way it’s always going to be. And that’s because ignorance is bliss, right? I’m sure if I asked my mom what it was like when I dropped my college applications in the mail, she’d probably say that I bolted out of the house to hang out with my friends while she cried herself into a puffy mess on the couch.
So while, in the great scheme of milestones, I feel like the college process is definitely a biggie, I know that it’s just one more in an ongoing, never-ending story of Big Moments that we all cycle through. And the truth is, as much as I feel like this one deserved a healthy pause and some legitimate fanfare, I’m sure that the moment we open the first tuition bill will involve something even more significant. Something like smelling salts seems about right.