This fall, we sent our oldest off to college. I'm still grappling with the idea that he's gone. I'm also trying to wrap my head around the bacchanalia that is the freshman college experience. I'm a little bit terrified, a little bit envious and a little bit excited all at once. This kid is smart and level-headed and has good friends to make sure he doesn't do anything warranting bail money, but still, letting your kid go off on his own requires a few deep breaths.
We've tried to prepare him for this next step into adulthood. We sent him off with extension cords, mac 'n cheese, duct tape, a working laptop, shower shoes and laundry detergent. We've stressed the importance of good grades and plenty of sleep and letting us know he's alive every week or so. We're hoping we've been good role models in everything from our marriage to our eating habits and that those paradigms have sunk into his pores.
But I'll be honest. I don't worry much about the freshman fifteen or the late nights or the beer drinking. A few months of working out, a long weekend of sleeping in, and a dwindling bank account will fix those problems. I worry about the big things. Trips to the ER. Academic probation. Unintended pregnancy. STDs. Not because I think he's irresponsible, quite the opposite, but because it's the unintended fissures in life that can derail an education and change lives forever.
We've done what we can to make sure our oldest is prepared to enjoy his romantic relationships safely. We haven't hidden our heads in the sand. My husband has spoken openly and frequently with him about sex and sexual responsibility and we hope those messages have stayed with him. But parental advice only goes so far. As our children become more independent and autonomous, they rely on us less for information and more on their friends and peers. We give them the foundation, but once they move into their dorm rooms, our kids are on their own.
Which is why I'm so very, very grateful for birth control. Last year, when I wrote my inaugural piece for the "Thanks, Birth Control" campaign, I wrote about the freedom and choices birth control had given me over the years. This year, as a parent of a new college student, I've got a new perspective. This year, it's all about the kids.
When I was a college student the campus health center had a big bowl of condoms on the counter free for the taking. No questions asked. Doctors at my alma mater discussed birth control options openly and made them available at discounted prices to students. I want those same choices to be available to my oldest and his partners, whoever they may be. I want them to have more and better options and cheaper ones too. I hope they aren't ashamed to ask for contraception and, more importantly, to use it. My kid has enough to worry about with calculus.
I know this isn't the last time I'll be thinking about this, either. A few weeks ago, on our way to the local farmer's market, my 6-year-old asked me how people decide not to have babies. I gave him a half-hearted answer -- we were supposed to be buying vegetables, not talking about the pill. I told him that people just tell their bodies not to have babies. It was incredibly lame. He was less than satisfied. "But how," he asked, "do they tell their bodies? How do their bodies know?" I distracted him with a stop at the pickle vendor. It was pathetic. You'd think I'd be more prepared. Next time, I will be. After all, it's only 12 years until he moves into his own dorm room.
So this year, I'll say "Thanks, Birth Control!" (or #ThxBirthControl if you like hashtags) -- for giving college students everywhere the freedom to enjoy their romantic relationships without fear or guilt or shame. As the parent of one of those kids, I owe you a beer.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is asking people nationwide to talk about what birth control makes possible for individuals and society. This effort, named "Thanks, Birth Control," can be done in many ways including sending a tweet using the hashtag #ThxBirthControl or posting something on Facebook.