ian outside the met

Now that our firstborn’s Gap Year is drawing to a close, the jury is in.

It was a great decision.

Instead of going straight to college, Ian accepted an offer from Maryland Institute College of Art  (MICA) last May, then deferred for a year.  As many MOB readers will recall, he spent the summer lifeguarding before going off to Europe in the fall for a few months of travel.  Considering this was a kid who had never even gone to summer camp, he did amazingly well on his own. 

Ian rejoined us just before Christmas, and has spent the last few months working on paintings in his basement studio, lifeguarding at indoor pools, visiting friends in college and at prep schools, perfecting his baking (“I figure I should have a skill to fall back on if the art thing doesn’t work out”), chauffering his younger brothers around, going to museums and galleries, and helping us in the house and garden.

This spring, Chris and I did not have to touch the mulch pile when the dump truck delivered it – our personal hired man took care of it while we were busy doing other stuff.   He took out the storm windows and put in the screens.  He empties the dishwasher every day.  Unfortunately, he has backslid on making his bed every morning, which he used to do while in school.   He goes to the gym with us, or bums a ride into the city when we’re heading in. 

It’s been such a pleasure to hang out with this kid, without the usual parental overlays of “Did you study for that test?” and “Are you all caught up in that class?”   Apart from monitoring his scholarship applications (he had to re-apply), there’s been blessedly little hectoring on our part.

Ian has been reading classics that he’s never had the time to enjoy, from the Great Gatsby to The Mysterious Island, from The Importance of Being Ernest to Lives of the Artists.  He’s recently been poring over an anatomy book that I found for a dollar at a library sale.  Although it’s from the late 1800s, the human body has not changed much since it was first published and he’s finding it fascinating.

From obscurities like A Knife in the Water to popular recent releases like The Illusionist, Ian’s also been watching a ton of movies.  He tracks the Netflix queue, and rents whatever strikes his fancy at the library. 

There’s plenty of junk TV too, and month upon month of sleeping until noon.  But the beauty of it is, we don’t get worked up about this, or go into nag mode.  Ian is basically on Student Sabattical.  

With no deadlines or assignments or anywhere to be – until lifeguarding duty begins in the late afternoon – he’s not operating under the normal rules governing daily life.  He will be, for the rest of his life, so we’re fine with letting him sleep or zone out in front of Cash Cab.

The advantages of the Gap Year far outweigh any downsides, in our experience.  More than a few of Ian’s contemporaries went off to freshman year of college, on cue, and had a negative experience.  Either they dropped out or they transferred or they’re deeply unhappy. 

While the Gap Year is no innoculation against those outcomes, we can’t help but feel that the extra 365 days of maturing and pondering and yes, boredom, will have the positive effect of making Ian that much more college-ready.

In the meantime, there are documents to sign, seal, and mail off to MICA today.

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