Taking the Long Road to College
Sometimes it's the small things that make you notice the larger ones. Next week my oldest child, who just graduated high school, leaves for a month of volunteer work in Thailand, to kick off a "gap year;" which will consist of several consecutive structured programs on a couple of continents, before he finally settles down at his college of choice in September 2012. Though he's already been accepted to the school, (a pre-requisite for doing a gap year in our eyes), he decided during his senior year that he would get the most out of his college experience by waiting a little longer to begin it.
Gap years are becoming more popular, and many schools are even suggesting them. According to a recent New York Times article, many colleges--and experts recommend that students prepare for matriculation by doing a life-changing activity, and when it comes to preparing for college, "travel can be a transformative experience."
And today I realized that the seeds of transformation were taking place in my son long before we bought his airline ticket. We were in the shoe department of our local camping goods store looking for the best pair of lightweight shoes to help our boy step into his first gap year adventure, when he ran into a friend from high school. When he told his friend that he was leaving soon for Southeast Asia soon, his friend, who had graduated the year before and attended a local college before enrolling in a university, said wryly, "of course you are."
It wasn't until later, over sandwiches, that I asked him what his friend meant, and found out that my son was known for doing things off the beaten track. Looking back, it's that little moment in the shoe department that made me realize that while it hasn't always been easy to parent the kind of kid who takes the road less traveled, the larger lesson is to recognize that we'd on the right path all along. Truth be told, our son has always marched to his own drummer, and he's always had our support and encouragement to do things differently.
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But while the concept of choosing a gap year is gaining ground, planning for it made our son's senior year extraordinarily stressful for all of us. For starters, we were really planning the next two years of our son's life. While we knew all along that he wanted to delay his entrance to college, we were also clear that we wanted him to get into one before we signed off on a gap year.