“We’re still deciding where to enroll in the fall…” This sentence is uttered in undergraduate admissions offices and school counseling offices every spring, typically by earnest moms who mean well. In response, the kindly admissions officer or college counselor who hears this will gently say “I think you mean Sally/Tommy is deciding where to enroll.” These interactions happen all the time, and often lead to eye rolling.
Former me, who was a lively young whippersnapper (#youngandwildandfree), would happily join in said eye rolling. Like so many others, I was quick to decry the helicopter parents who were ruining America’s youth. And then I had one. A youth, that is. He’s almost a year old, and I’ve already caught myself employing the royal “we” on more than one occasion.
It started innocently enough. I was pregnant, and we really were “we.” “We” was cute, and physically accurate. When he was born, people would check in on us and, without skipping a beat, I’d say “We’re doing well.” But it still didn’t seem entirely wrong. He was with me all the time.
And then I got back to work, and someone would ask me how I was doing, and I’d say, “Great! We’re working on sitting up.” Whoa. Wait a minute. I don’t need to work on sitting up. I sit up just fine. As I am an able-bodied adult and nearly thirty. But it continued. “We’re crawling!” “We’re all about applesauce right now.” “We pooped in the tub last night.”
It took time to realize that, before my kid was even a year old, I had already taken the “we” too far. Now I make a point of pausing and rephrasing because “we” is as bad for me as it is for Baby O.
Language matters. Language is powerful. Language sends a message, shapes behavior, and both determines and demonstrates our perspective. “We” belittles me: a fully bipedal, independent woman whose palate is sophisticated well beyond the level of Mott’s applesauce. “We” belittles the little guy, too. While hard not to take at least partial credit for the sheer hustle of birthing and maintaining an infant, I’m not the one who, in just a year, has chewed food for the first time, learned to walk, and regulated his behavior to a degree that now creates only mild torture for the poor cats.
I need to own my accomplishments and let Baby O do the same. My role (my goal, really) is to support him, guide him, and love him on his little journey through the world. Today it’s figuring out the stairs, and tomorrow it will be applying to college. Now and then, he needs the space to find his own way, develop a sense of self that is his and his alone, and garner the skills to do things like fill out forms, ask questions of a stranger, write an essay, and be a good self advocate (all abilities that, as an admissions officer, I can promise are often even more valuable than a perfect transcript).
I know we’re in for a long seventeen years of trial and error. But on that journey I plan to constantly remember that, while our paths intersect, each adventure is our own. While I become a mother and attempt to weave that role into my many other identities, O is becoming his own person too. And I can’t wait to see all that that entails (currently it’s a lot of drooling, but I assume that’s temporary). I’ll strive to give him the freedom and personal agency that will allow for that growth now and translate into concrete life skills down the line.
So, to the parents of college applicants, I’m here to say that I get it now in a way I didn’t before. I know you are coming from a place of love. But I’m still going to roll my eyes at you. Because you deserve it just like I deserve it. “We’re working on our college applications” is just as wacky a sentence as “We’re working on using the potty.” No, parent friends. “We” are not (or certainly should not) be working on either. And as our blessed babies live and grow, we do them no favors to do otherwise.