One Mom Looks Forward While Looking Back

As author Allison Winn Scotch prepares her son to head off to college and attends her alumni reunion, she revisits her own first taste of freedom.

Mother and teenage son walk in a park.

Marian Fil / Shutterstock

My son’s college applications were due the same day that my book came out this month. The book, The Rewind, is about that heady time in your late teens and early twenties when nothing is permanent and the whole world feels wide open with possibility. And it was jarring, I admit, to be juggling his applications with this fictional ode to a time in my life when I was his age.

Many moons ago (okay, about a decade ago), I used to write frequently for Parents. I interviewed experts, shared my own anecdotes, wrote about the exhaustion and wonder of toddlers and the uncertainty of raising children correctly, and the complications and joy of working motherhood or stay-at-home motherhood or anything in between.

And now, inexplicably, my oldest is ready to fly. And though he is ready, and there are definitely moments when I feel ready, still, it all feels impossible. I figured that I, an author who spends a lot of time wading into the thick of nostalgia through her characters, would be better prepared for it. After all, we know that our time with our children is limited, and we know that the best thing we can do is send them out into the world with the wind at their backs.

But still, it all seems so fast, so soon.

Mid-Life, Not Quite a Crisis

Allison Winn Scotch and her book cover The Rewind

Kat Tuohy Rosenberg / Berkley

I think about my own parents a lot these days. How they felt at mid-life when I, their youngest, was ready to leave. I went to college on the opposite coast from my childhood home—a six-hour flight away. We didn’t have email, we didn’t have FaceTime. We had long distance calls that were expensive. I have memories of my mom moving me into my dorm, and I have memories of calling my parents from the library payphones or my dorm room when I had something important to tell them or my heart had been broken (it happened a few times). But the moments in between? Those were for me. For building a life, for forging lifelines, well beyond and outside of my childhood. It was a resonant, wonderful time: that freedom to do anything I chose, eat anything I wanted, stay up late, sleep in, build friendships with people who only a few weeks ago were strangers, fall in love, fall out of love, fall back in love, and fall in love with myself. 

I went back to my college campus a few months ago for a much-delayed reunion. Three years of alumni attended because our reunions had to be squished together thanks to COVID. And it was heady and wonderful and felt exactly like we were 20 again, even though we were all in our 40s (with some pushing 50). And we all marveled at how late we managed to stay up, how gross the beer was that we decided to drink anyway. We returned to our respective homes with a surreal sense of wonder that we’d been able to recapture the magic of our youths, if only for 48 hours, and that magic took a few weeks to shed. We swapped photos in text chains; we shared memories that some of us had forgotten but others had not.

When eventually we reoriented ourselves back into our middle-aged lives, it was a little bittersweet. Not because we couldn’t or wouldn’t stay in touch. Rather, because that rarified time of our youths, that optimistic electricity was gone. That electricity is what I lose myself in when I write. And that electricity is what I most look forward to for my son. It’s not that mid-life isn’t wonderful—it brings its own set of new joys. But in a very different way than when you are 20. 

Flying the Nest

College applications can be a nightmare. You will argue with your child, who inexplicably is now an adult and thinks they know more than you. Does it really matter where he or she goes? Only in that you want them to be happy. Nearly all of them will be. And if they aren’t, they transfer or they find a different path—maybe not college at all. The kids, for the most part, really are alright. 

But what I most want for my son, and eventually my daughter, is what I try to capture on page and what I was lucky enough to capture for myself. The beauty of that time in your life when the world was wide open, when you looked in the mirror and thought that maybe nothing would stick to you because you could always choose differently if things went wrong. Or maybe that’s just how I look back on it now. I know that I couldn’t wait to graduate; I know that I spent half my senior year miserable and complaining. 

And I know that my son, wherever he lands, will go through all this too. The romances that will break his heart, the professors who make him smarter, the exams that he will bomb, the friends who will become indelible, the late nights where he’ll sit outside until the sun comes up talking about something that feels revolutionary. 

I’m ready for my son to push off, and he’s ready to go. But time is still a thief. For my parents when I left, I’m sure. For me and my own youth. For my household now that firstborn is on his way. So I keep writing my way back to it, hoping to capture a little bit of that magic while I still can.

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