Another Path

Can I ask you to refrain from THE question when you see me? I know it is standard and I know it is exciting and victorious for most of you, but for me it is a different scene altogether and though I suspect I am not alone, in the circles in which I travel, it is unheard of.

I am going to ask you to please stop asking me what college my twin seniors are planning to attend. They are not. Yes, I know this is the norm. I lived it through my first three older sons. We made the trips and tours, agonized over choices, applied for scholarships, critiqued the dining halls, and struggled through the SAT’s. It was all one rite of passage after another and this was all I knew so it felt normal and in sequence. But, that is not how it is going this time.

Well, one of my twins, DID submit applications, grueling as that was. And he was actually accepted by a pretty solid state school in North Carolina. He got the team cap and the shirt to go with it in fact and we did tour there twice. All seemed good except for his frustrating disinterest in majors and such. He was taken with their ROTC program, but in the end, that was just not enough. So, the final school acceptance day of May 1, 2017 has come and gone with no response from him. Instead, he has been wooed and cajoled by the slickest of Army recruiters over and over here, there and everywhere. He ate it up and of course, there must have been something inside of him that these soldiers spoke to because their enticements, waving of money, glory, and fame met with a hook already looking for that big fish. They found a match made in heaven in a smart, smiling, responsible kid who had already been enamored with Civil Air Patrol and its uniforms, flight schools, and MRE meals since sixth grade. Click! He was in and he leaves for basic training in less than three months determined to be an MP!

Make no mistake. I have tried everything humanly possible to turn that train around. I have begged, pleaded, written, shared, enticed, and never have I made one single chink in this armor, nor have his brothers or father. The irony of my son answering to THIS current Commander in Chief of the United States is absolutely more than I can fathom. As I write about this, my stomach still turns, the dread looms and my heart races. I am not quite sure how I will survive the day he leaves for an army that I disdain. If he does decide to go to the NC college after all, someday following the military, he will in fact, have to reapply. It doesn’t seem like a likely thread to me.

And then, there is his twin, also enamored with anything military for a long time. He too began donning cammo garb in sixth grade and was the head honcho of all neighborhood Airsoft wars with our trash cans, gutters, cars, etc, having dings to prove the warfare. To his credit he also became extremely successful in all related things including Search and Rescue, Emergency Medical Tech, severe weather rescues, CPR in several cases recently where he saved lives, and more. Of his own volition, he has attended EMT classes every day after school for this entire year. We have seen little of this son over this last year, because he found his passion in firefighting. He practically lives at the firehouse every chance he gets (or at least that is where he has us believing he is).

There have been real communication gaps with this son of ours and it has more often than not, left me in tears. He has never preferred to spend time with us, and much to our chagrin he rarely shows up for paid work and thus, never has any money. To my complete Yankee horror, he took up “dipping” apparently “years ago” and has a wad inside his lip often! I find this completely repulsive and of course a hideous health threat and yet, there are those dozens of empty tins in his room. How does he purchase these without money?

Suffice to say, this son of ours has literally hated every single moment of every single day in school for 14 years. Well, okay perhaps not in those early years at Montessori when he “chose his work” and climbed structures and zip lines. No telling him how smart he was, helping him, tutoring him, medicating him, changing schools/teachers/routines – NONE of it made one bit of difference. So the fact that in 16 days it will be over seems to mean nothing more to him than it being OVER. He has not been issued a cap and gown because he owes the school money and he does not care. “Walking” at graduation means nothing and he says he just wants the piece of paper that says “it’s over.”

As parents we often say we learn from our children and this could not be truer for me than during this last go round of raising sons. I will not delude you or myself by saying I am better for it or I have learned some good stuff, because most of my heart has broken so many times in the thousands of emails back and forth to teachers, that I don’t think it is repairable. And I often told myself that this was not MY journey to take, but theirs.

In the end, I happen to know that these two fine young men will rise above and make a difference in whatever they do. They have the skills and the wisdom to save lives and to rescue when rescue is needed without the emotion and passion that I lean on and would be an obstacle, if you were to depend on me to save your life. They have chosen a very different path than most and I am still struggling with it to be honest. I can’t stop comparing and your Facebook announcements of the acceptances to fine colleges sting deeply. I do not blame you or want you to stop or even edit your successes, it’s just a new world for me to see those who started preschool with my sons go in the traditional and likely successful paths I’d hoped for too.

Who’s to say what is good, better, or best? I hope that I have raised kind hearts and that they will stay connected to their family, but I cannot even predict that. I have done my best under less than optimal circumstances. And at that candlelight pre-graduations service the other night, I shed tears throughout as I was so deeply moved. My sons scoffed some and slept some, which dug deep into my core. I have loved them both with all my heart and soul and always will and in the end, maybe I really did need to learn that not all paths use the same GPS. Some drivers prefer to use no map at all and to find their own way.

So thank you for not asking what college my kids will be attending. Instead perhaps, ask them, “what comes next for you? Where are you headed next? What is your hope or your dream?” Thank you.



  1. T. Zobel · May 23

    I love your writing Ann. Its brutal honesty mirrors what has happened in my life. I will always hold a piece of your boys in my heart. Thank you for letting me help you raise them the bit that you did, but know you have had the rudder the whole time. They are strong, smart young men destined to serve others and that is a gift you and Shep have them. Be proud. Whatever they are doing next will be amazing.

  2. Boston Mom · May 23

    I, too, have a child whose path through and beyond high school is very different from my own and a significant departure from where I thought she was headed. I have been on the receiving end of teacher emails, requests for parent/teacher conferences and warnings from school administrators that she would not graduate from high school. I hired tutors, took her on college tours, grounded her and took away her phone. Yet despite ample evidence that she was more than capable, neither rewards nor punishment had much of any impact on her academic performance. Like you I do want to celebrate the academic achievements and Ivy League admissions of her peers, I can’t help at times but feel as if I have failed as a parent by comparison. And then I feel disloyal to my daughter. Thank you for your candor; it made me feel less alone in my experience and reminded me that achievement and success come in many different varieties.

    • Ann Conlon-Smith · May 24

      Oh Boston Mom — ironic that you should share this list of “try this and try that.” After I’d posted my blog, I thought back to the teacher meetings where one particular young teacher kept saying, “Why haven’t you tried offering rewards and punishments? That would work. Then he’d do what he needs to do.” I thought to myself, “Is she kidding? Is she f’in kidding? Does she have any idea how many things like that we tried, that had no impact whatsoever?” Instead I stared her down and hoped she would shut up and leave the room and never come back to a meeting with us again. I hear you Boston Mom and you make ME feel less alone and that helps more than anything. Thanks so much, Ann

  3. Mellanie · May 24

    I cannot tell you how much I love what you wrote. We have struggled a lot with our son this year. Not with the same struggles, but big struggles where his ideology is different from ours and he is making choices far different from what we imagined for him. I have been afraid to share our heartbreak and distress because it is too raw. I am so glad that you had the courage to share yours. It helps to know that we are not alone. That life is not perfect. That our children grow and make their own decisions and choices. And we still love them, even while we ache for them. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    • Ann Conlon-Smith · May 24

      Wow Mellanie — This means so much to me to hear and I am so honored to have you share this with me. We all feel better knowing we are not alone and not the only ones and that in the end all will be well. Thanks Ann

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