She’s Only 17, But The Decision Is Hers

            “Last night I dreamt I was returning
            and my heart called out to you
            to please accept me as you’ll find me
            Me kealoha ku’u home o Kahalu’u.”

-from “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u,” a popular contemporary Hawaiian song written by Jerry Santos 

Lily at 5, preparing for kindergarten
Lily at 5, preparing for kindergarten

She’s feeling a bit anxious now. The summer before senior year, and the glow is slowly fading. School is no longer in the rear view mirror, and as September days inch closer and closer, she knows she doesn’t have much longer.

She’s only 17, but it’s time to think of leaving home.

Watching the college application process from the passenger seat feels a little bit like those first few days of elementary school, not knowing if we made the right choices, or if she would make it through the day by herself. We always knew she was independent, not terribly shy, and was an eager learner. But something about dropping her off on those first few days left me twisted up in knots. I couldn’t wait for her to come home.

Kind of how I feel right now.

When it was time for kindergarten registration, we chose where she went to school. She had no idea that her entire day would be taught in Spanish, nor that any other school was different. It was just what we thought was best, so she went. Things went well. She learned, she made friends, she laughed, and at the end of the day, she was happy to be home.

Now that it’s time for college choices, it’s really up to her.

She’s only 17, but it’s her time to decide where she wants to go next.

I sense her anxiety. It’s palpable as we click around websites and look at campus after campus.  So much to take in, making the decision that much more complicated. Intense. Insurmountable.

She hasn’t really changed that much since kindergarten-she’s still independent, social, and eager to learn. But something about the thought of dropping her off at college takes my breath away. I want to scoop her into my arms, make the choice for her, make the fears go away. I want to know that no matter what, she can come home at the end of the day and it will be OK.

But I can’t – she’s really 17.

Seventeen years spent nurturing her every interest, protecting her, creating a home for her to sink into when she needs it – has it all led up to this? GPAs, test scores, extra-curriculars…I can’t help but cringe at the extraordinary complexity of the decision, and wonder if it has to be this way. Can’t she just plug it all into some sort of app, and the perfect place will spit out at her on her computer screen, guaranteed to be her happy place?

Lily at 17, preparing for college

So we’ll make a list, do our research, and hop in the car to tour schools clear up to the Canadian border. We’ll walk the campus, take notes, and soak in what it feels like. She’ll try to imagine herself there, alone, independent, social, and eager to learn. Things will go well.

She’s only 17, but the decision has to be hers.

I’ll try to imagine myself next year, alone, missing her, but proud that she made her choice. And I’ll be there, next year, back at home, dreaming of when she returns.

Because she’s only 17.

No decision is forever. She can always come home.

This post was inspired by the novel This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila, a collection of short stories that shares a view of Hawaiians few tourists ever experience. Join From Left to Write on August 8 as we discuss This Is Paradise.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe at jenniferwolfe.net.

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  1. I remember that period of my own daughter’s life (she’s now 31, and getting married in less than two weeks!!), and I felt all the same things you’re feeling. It felt so different from what I remember of my own college-choice decision-making, which was completely haphazard (thank goodness it worked out for the best). Good luck.
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    1. Janaki, thank you for your kind words. This really does seem so much more stressful than when I went to college – are the stakes really that much higher, or is it all just hyped up more than before? All I can do is breathe myself through it, and support her decisions. Thanks for commenting today. ~Jennifer

  2. Wow. I’m making decisions for my almost 5 year old boy and can’t imagine being in your shoes, but know it will be here before I know it. I only hope that I give him the trust and confidence to make his own decisions — and make good ones!

    1. Lisa, when people always told me that the time goes quickly I believed them. But when it’s your own, and you’re thinking of sending them off into the world, it really stings. Thanks for commenting today! ~Jennifer

  3. My baby girl flew all the way to Brooklyn, NY at 17 last year. She graduated High School early…While she is living 3000 miles away attending college, we have grown closer to each other than I thought possible. Texting and Skype and visits. Our connection has never been stronger. Back to what you were saying about how Lily hasn’t changed much since she was 5, that is exactly what got Ashley and I talking about what she might like. At 5 she loved to check out houses, all kinds, especially yellow ones and now she is studying Architecture. Wish you both well, enjoy!

    1. Oh Mary, that is so neat that your girl is so independent! I’m amazed at the things my daughter does that I would NEVER have had the courage for at her age! It must be very rewarding to see her studying something she’s passionate about – I can’t wait to see what happens to Lily! Thanks for stopping by~Jennifer

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  5. Aloha e Jennifer,
    I was so moved by the way you wove Jerry Santos’ song lyrics into a tribute to your daughter’s next step. And the photos are wondeful! I’m “home” in Hawai`i right now, though I leave in a couple of days for the mainland. I am sad to be leaving but I also feel fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends who encourage every leap I take… and who are ready with a hug and a spare futon if I fall. Ho`omaikai to your daughter for taking a huge jump!

    1. Kristiana, thank you so much for your kind words. I absolutely loved your book, and was moved in so many ways…but since I’m in the midst of this college thing right now, it just seemed a good fit. I think when I went away to college was when I really realized what coming home really meant. Interestingly, one of the schools we’re looking at next week is WWU-I think it’s curious that an island girl like yourself would wind up in such a different climate! Gives me hope that my California girl would fit right in…looking forward to reading more from you! ~Jennifer

  6. As we are now getting ready for fourth grade, an age when high school begins to be a consideration, and I am overwhelmed with that idea, I love your commitment to college being your daughter’s choice. After all the years of decision making, what a wonderful parent you are to allow this happen. Of course being a sappy old lady who marvels at my children being 8 and not 3 as I was sure they would stay, I scrolled back and forth between your two pictures, rendering me completely weepy for the entire read. Lovely.

    1. Ally, thank you. Parenting is so hard- to know when to step in and when to pull back. This week as we tour I’m so proud of her poise and grace. Im confident she will know what she needs. Thank you so much for connecting with me! -Jennifer

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