It has become all too clear to me that the university students who I teach now are far closer to my children’s age than they are to my age. Twenty years ago, when many of them were born, I was starting college myself.
For the large part, freshmen entering college this fall weren’t alive before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They were only preschoolers when Facebook became mainstream. They were in elementary school when the first iPhone was released. They are part of the Gen Z, a generation born in 1996 or later - a generation including my three children, ages 4, 8 and 10.
When I started teaching 11 years ago, my students were only a handful of years younger than me. It hadn’t been that long since I had graduated myself. But time moves on. I now have just as many friends and acquaintances on Facebook who are posting their “dropping kids off at college” photos as I have friends posting first day of kindergarten pictures. The older I get, the more I realize it won’t be that long before my oldest daughter goes to college - eight years to be exact. Not that I’m counting or anything.
Cue the anxiety attack.
We have college savings accounts for our children, which were opened when our children were still in newborn-sized diapers and I was on maternity leave. We’ve saved whenever we can, with the help of family members who give checks for college funds instead of elaborate birthday gifts.
We started talking with our children early, too, about what they want to do with their lives, trying to put the idea into their heads at a young age to set goals for themselves, and plan for how to achieve them. Our oldest kid is somehow naturally gifted in math and science - despite the fact that neither of her parents are mathematically inclined. But we rejoice in that. For the past few years, she’s maintained that she wants to be a veterinarian. We’ll see if that sticks. But as I’ve seen her cuddle our special-needs puppy Gus or attempt to “re-home” everything from turtles to frogs, I can’t help to think the profession would be a natural fit.
When our middle child, our son, graduated from preschool, the teachers asked the class on video what they wanted to be when they grew up. Many of the students had the typical answers you’d expect from a group of 3- and 4-year-olds, including doctors, firefighters, teachers and ballerinas. But when the camera zoomed to my son and the teacher asked him what he wanted to be, he smiled with his dimpled cheeks protruding and said “I want to be myself.”
In the grand scheme of things, I guess that’s something we all hope for our children.
But in the years that have followed, our son has become enthralled with the military and with history. With a dad who was a history major in college and with both grandfathers and three great-grandfathers who were veterans, our son didn’t fall far from the family tree.
Last week, as I was tucking my son into bed, he was reading a child-appropriate book on the Vietnam War that he had brought home from his school’s library. The two other books he brought home included one on the Korean War and the other about World War I. I bent over, kissed my son’s blond head, said goodnight to our boxer puppy who was lying at the foot of his bed, paws up in the air, and turned out the light.
″... But in World War II, the fighters would aim for the gunner on the bottom of the bombers,” my son trailed off, randomly talking about B-24 bombers. It’s rare that our son isn’t talking about artillery or details from some long-ago war.
I thoroughly believe children have a natural inclination to become who they are supposed to become, and that it is our job as parents to support them and guide them, to help them along that path.
I’ve just realized lately that I’m a lot farther along that path that I thought.
I want to enjoy every step of parenthood, because I know that childhood is fleeting. One day, the kids I teach in college will be the same ages as my kids. I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet. But I know the day is coming - sooner rather than later.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.