Loco Parentis: The Long Goodbye

Kids. I can’t wait until they’re out on their own. I want them never to leave

‘‘I’m not doing any interviews,” my high-school-junior son Jake announces, out of the blue, months before we’ve even gotten to that point in the college application process. We’re driving in the car — just about the only place we actually interact with one another anymore — and I glance over at him:

“Why not?”

“I’m not good like that. Talking.”

I think about it. True, he’s not good talking with me. Our conversations have a way of turning into bouts of mutual frustration, our voices and blood pressures rising as we mishear and misinterpret and misjudge each other. It’s pretty amazing to think that we’ve lived together for 16 and a half years and still can’t discuss such seemingly neutral subjects as, say, the fluoridation of drinking water without ending up shouting. I used to think this was because we were so different. More and more, as my son gets older, I realize it’s because we’re so alike. We both want to be right, both need to have the last word, both tend to think we’re the smartest person in the room. Lately we’ve discovered we hardly ever fight if we text one another instead of talking to each other, even if we’re under the same roof. We’re less likely to trip wires in the terse, emotion-stripped language of texting:

when iz supper?
10 min

Jake’s older sister Marcy dreaded her college interviews, too, but at least she was willing to practice with me. Jake can’t be bothered with practicing for them any more than he can be for the SATs. He’s Popeye-like in his belligerent “I yam what I yam.” I haven’t figured out yet if this is because he’s possessed of preternatural self-confidence or because he’s just too busy playing World of Warcraft online.

“You know,” I tell him, quietly, gently, because I really have come to believe this, after living through the college-app process with Marcy, “you just have to be yourself. There’s no sense pretending to be someone you’re not.”

“It’s all someone I’m not,” he says, and I know what he means. His mission at this point in life is to figure out who he is, which is more easily defined by negatives — I’m not a geek, I’m not a freaking phony, I’m not the kind of guy who aces college interviews — than positives. He lives life day-to-day; there isn’t any master plan. And he wards off the adult world with a thick shell of sarcasm and cynicism that makes it impossible to offer direction or help. Not long ago, my husband Doug and I watched The Graduate again for the first time in decades. Somewhere about two-thirds in, as Anne Bancroft was dicking with Dustin Hoffman’s mind in a hotel room — again — Doug and I looked at one another.

“I don’t remember this being so dark,” he said.

“I remembered it as a romantic comedy,” I confessed.

The difference, of course, is that we now have a son nearly Benjamin Braddock’s age.