According to the parenting rulebook, it is illegal to argue with your child about whose anxiety is worse.
Still, when it comes to the angst of my younger daughter’s college applications, we are neck-and-neck.
No argument necessary.
Her stress is tipping the scales. Not surprisingly.
For her, this is the big “IT”. Her life is completely geared to going to E** college – because this is THE ONLY college that she will ever be happy at. THE ONLY college that will lead to her dream job. THE ONLY college that will propel her into her dream life. THE ONLY college that will guarantee her a happily ever after.
She decided this last year.
Now, it’s just the small matter of an application. (And the smaller matter of acceptance. And the much huger issue of financial aid...) And, too, picking those back-up schools that only slightly interest her but are necessary because of a very wise rule that requires just-in-case planning.
So she’s writing. Editing. Rewriting. Sick of it. Rewriting again anyway. And resisting the temptation to just send the damn essay(s) as is. Or, as was.
It is unnervingly close to impossible to complete one essay on a topic that is too broadly or too narrowly defined and requires equal parts creativity, sincerity, and logic. One of these admission essays would make most adults want to hurl. But, of course, there are a nauseating number of essays with topics that are equally as nauseating and often quite meaningless.
No choice. Write anyway. Then edit. And rewrite. Again.
She’s creating spreadsheets to track all of the due dates for early action, rolling decision, and regular decision; for submitting The Common App, the essays, the additional essays, the portfolio; for completing every required standard and institution specific financial aid form plus the additional letters of explanation.
Very few of her colleges have the same due dates and no two have exactly the same required documents and forms. There is no margin of error, no allowance for misunderstanding or misreading or missing a deadline altogether. From the college perspective, I suspect that a missed date is an easy elimination method.
My daughter is now a walking, breathing, organizational fiend who is trying to be original, serious, light, concise, noticeable, creative, extraordinary, interesting, and visionary.
Actually, she is most of this anyway. She really only needs to chill and be herself.
But in the pressure of these circumstances, it is easy for her to totally forget what she is capable of. Uncertain. She draws a blank.
Even as she is up against every other high school senior – and it is hard to push this reality aside – the best that she can do is present exactly who she is and leave her anxiety at the curb (next to the mailbox).
And then wait.
Wait for the admissions office to decide if she is a “good fit”. Wait for the financial aid office to create an offer that we can afford. And hope that this combination will be with the school she’s trying so hard not to want so much.
As her mother, I am "merely" charged with supporting my daughter.
I won’t write her essays. But I will provide feedback when she asks.
I won't look through each college website and compile every date. But I will collaborate on her spreadsheet so that we can both feel secure in the myriad of deadlines.
Working together in this way is my way of further preparing her for her college years and far beyond as I insist that she should:
- do the work herself – complete all the assignments and forms.
- get everything in on time. (Like many projects in the real world, there are no extensions.)
- ask for help as needed.
- ultimately, make absolutely certain that it is completely her work, her words, her ideas.
These days remind me of those first days when she walked on her own without my hands to grasp onto. I stepped back and she toddled forward, then backward, then walked. Then ran. Then bicycled (dangerously!). Then danced.
Staying on the sidelines, I never left her side – but she didn’t always know that.
If she fell – when she fell, she usually righted herself as I resisted every urge to run to her. She simply didn’t need rescuing despite my mothering impulse. She needed to discover her sense of self, to know that could take risks and keep going.
Occasionally, I was called in for kisses and bandaids and I always provided both as she got herself upright and moved on without me.
Rarely, did we race to the ER for a broken wrist or thumb. But, yes, those moments happened as well. I’d be there, instructing doctors to ignore her happy face that misrepresented her agony or fear and instead asked them to listen to her describe the pain. Every time, something was broken. And every time, I’d have to let her try again – with cast and all.
Point being, I worried from a distance – where she couldn’t see me holding my breath.
And I’m doing it again now.
She is needing me less and less – which, I think, is how the rulebook plays this parenting gig out – but I’ll still always be here for her.
Dance. Be free.
What will be, will be.
May your kisses and bandaids be in endless supply
as your senior triumphs over his/her own college applications.