My fondest dream is to attend college. Unfortunately, I already did; graduate school, too, if you must know. But I wish I could go again.

My son gets to go to college, year after next. At least, that’s what everyone around here is obviously conspiring to have him believe. At his high school they are positively indoctrinating him, with placement tests and honors courses and libraries full of shiny campus brochures.

It’s taken me the better part of a year just to be able to say “college” without retching and lunging out of the room. Abject terror, mainly economic, would clamp down on my lungs, and my solar plexus would begin to implode. But even the most heinous idea can become acceptable given sufficient time. Half a year of hearing otherwise normal neighbors and friends discussing the issue as though it were inevitable has done its work. I’ve become accustomed to the specter of college, unfazed by the approaching tsunami of financial ruin. Like death, there is apparently no way to avoid it. Spasms of panic about how we’ll pay for it just have to be suppressed, like thoughts of credit card balances.

So we’ve been visiting colleges. Actually, it’s turned out to be fun. On three different mornings, my 17-year-old son and I set off early in the car. I drive and he mans the iPod. He carefully selects each individual song and points out interesting facts about the instrumentation and the artists. I try to respond in ways that portray neither my ignorance nor my pathetic desire for him to think I’m cool. Hour after hour on the expressway, he continues to talk to me about music, somehow failing to become disgusted with me. Yesterday, in fact, somewhere in central Illinois, when I attempted to “beatbox,” which involves making a variety of rhythmic, non-vocalized noises with one’s mouth, he actually laughed at me in a good-natured, almost fond manner. Having my children lovingly ridicule me is my absolutely favorite thing.

And what I completely did not expect when we started visiting colleges was how every campus we saw would hold up a different mirror to my own past. Strangely, my history seems to be a lot juicier than the futures of any of my three children promise to be. This surely violates some natural law: Upon every child is visited the sins of the parent; the child is then expected to tend these vices and pass them along to the next generation, increased.

Ooops, I forgot again: my children are not just extensions of my own personality. The three young people for whom I have so far been responsible have their own inner voices to guide them. My son will probably not dance in front of the stage at the freshmen orientation concert and embarrass his roommate. He will probably not ever be found on his hands and knees in the campus tavern, searching underneath tables for the illegal drugs that fell out of his pocket. More than likely, he will not cancel all his early morning classes. Oh, how I wish I could do it all over again. Maybe he’ll ask me to go along with him, you think?

You don’t?

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