Wes: As the heat of August peaks, we look ahead to fall, that splendid time of year when the air cools and the grass makes its green finale. Fall is the pause before a cold leafless winter, a last time for festivals and picnics, yard work and home improvement; football, volleyball and homecoming. Parents and kids feel recharged for a moment, ready to face the challenges ahead, of which there will be many.
But for some parents, those with teenagers leaving home, this is a season of loss. Even for those going six blocks up the street to KU, a distance will open in the coming weeks and then, only continue to grow. The unsteady freshman and sophomore years, or the struggles of a new entry-level job. There may be a change of plan or two. A reversal of fortune, dropping out of school or going for the first time. Then a stabilizing, for some sooner than others. Graduation, a degree or trade. A family. For so many I see now, early divorce. For most in the mid-20s there will come a renewal of family ties — especially if parents have made that relationship strong in the teen years, and reinforced it with a balance of boundaries and support in young adulthood.
Almost 30 years ago, when my own father faced the August of my departure, friends asked if he was not sad to see his only child driving an antique pickup 300 miles to college. We weren’t wealthy so trips home would be rare. My father offered them the same advice I will now. He said, “I’m not sad at all. That’s the whole purpose of being a parent.”
Readers of Double Take experience another loss each August, as we transition from one teen co-author to the next. This marks the 50th and final column written by Samantha Schwartz, who leaves us shortly for Grinnell College in Iowa. It’s hard for me to sum up how I feel about losing Sam. Perhaps the best measure of her value to this column is the number of times over the year that I’ve been approached by readers with words like “outstanding,” “really good advice,” “so insightful.” The list goes on an on, and all of them about Sam’s contribution. All this lopsided praise would make me feel terribly insecure, if I didn’t agree wholeheartedly. Working with Sam has challenged me to write better, to think harder, and at times just give up and follow her lead. Exactly what I’m looking for in a co-author: a partner and colleague. So I will feel her loss deeply, as will our readers.
It is often said that good things must come to an end, but not as often, why. Without ends there can be no beginnings. This is true of our departing teenagers, who must leave home to become adults, and for Double Take, which must say good-bye to take the next step forward. With Samantha’s departure, we are offered the chance to welcome Ben Markley in two weeks, following our annual break as the seventh Double Take co-author. The shoes he’ll fill are large, but I’m sure he’s up to the task.
Each year I ask the outgoing writer to give us what amounts to her commencement speech, a chance to freelance her views on this time of transition. This week we’ll honor Samantha Schwartz by reading hers. Not surprisingly, the column closes out her tenure in style.
Samantha: When I was 13, I would have rather lost my pinky finger than have been forced to move away from my California hometown. At that time, change was terrifying. When I heard we were moving, I immediately began to mourn the loss of my friends, my school and my house. In typical 13-year-old fashion, I made a PowerPoint presentation ornamented with clip-art trash cans entitled “Why are you throwing away my life?”
I made myself miserable for months anticipating that I couldn’t be happy in another place. Instead of enjoying the limited time I had with friends and family in California, I grieved over leaving until I left. A few months later in my new hometown of Lawrence, I was happier than I’d ever been. Moving allowed me to reinvent myself; I became the person I had always wanted to be.
Now, as an 18-year-old, moving is exhilarating. Everything will be different, and that’s a good thing. Moving is the self-guided trail to the rest of my life, not the edge of a cliff.
I’ve learned to embrace change rather than fear it. You’d be surprised what kind of advantage that gives you in the world. It’s like buying lottery tickets; the more changes you let into your life, the more chances you have to succeed. Life will change whether or not you’re a willing participant. Take it from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: Change is the only constant.
I’m proud to pass the torch to the next Double Take writer; I can’t wait to see how Ben’s perspective changes this column. And so I say goodbye to our readers like parents dropping off a teen at college: I’ll miss you dearly, but I know you’re in good hands.
I’d like to thank Wes for a great year working together, my parents for their incredible wisdom, and my sister for her unconditional support. I’d also like to thank the brave people who sought change in their lives by writing to this column; you’ve touched my life, and I think of you long after my final column goes to print.
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a recent graduate of Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.