Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Enjoying the Ride

Contrary to the desires of my biological clock, I was up and out the door before 7AM last Saturday. It wasn't a writing event this time (as it was the two weeks ago), but rather an event that took us a little farther down the road of the next big step in my daughter's life.

A college open house.

We've been doing the low-key, informal visits for two summers now -- last summer more seriously than the one before. So far, we've mostly ruled schools out, but one that we visited last summer made the "I think I want to know more" cut, and so we found ourselves on a beautiful college campus on an equally beautiful, if slightly chilly, Saturday morning.

It was a great day. The presentations were informational, not sales pitchy, and we were surrounded by other families in the same boat, which took the pressure off.

And believe me, there's pressure.

A couple of summers ago, I stumbled across a book called The Overachievers, in which author Alexandra Robbins introduced readers to a group of high school juniors and seniors going through the "getting ready to go to college" stage of high school. To paraphrase Sting, every step they took, every move they made was calculated to get them to their ultimate destination. Some had a specific school in mind, some did not, but in every case one very important variable was clear.

They had limited control over whether or not they'd arrive at that final destination. They could do everything right, and still be rejected.

Life lesson? Perhaps. But is it worth sucking all the joy (however much there is) out of the last two years of high school?

Type "college admissions" into the search engine on Amazon and you get 16,696 hits -- today. Am I supposed to read all those books in order to be a good parent? Pressure my daughter to spend the summer before her senior year immersed in essays for schools that may or may not deem her good enough to grace their halls?

Well, kinda.

After reading The Overachievers, I vowed that I would not be that parent. Because, as with so many other aspects of parenting, I get to decide that.

And yet, it's so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole. College visits. SAT prep. Course selections that balance interests and challenge with GPA. Before I knew it, I was halfway down.

Fortunately, a few weeks ago, a friend posted a video on Facebook, and I was, once again, saved from myself by another author whose message reminded me that the rabbit hole was not the place to be. I'm planning to use the title of his book (Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be) as a sort of parenting college prep mantra. Not only am I planning to read it, I'm planning to leave it out in plain sight as a reminder that this is our philosophy.

I'll still have to remind her of deadlines. I'll still have to take her to visit campuses (no complaints on that one), and nudge her toward those next steps that are alternately exciting and scary, keeping in mind the message I've heard over and over from other parents who've been through this.

She will find her place.

Mercifully, that message was echoed in every moment of our visit last Saturday, allowing me to relax into the philosophy that I hope will make this process more exploration and less excruciation. I loved the school, but that's immaterial. I've already been to college. Now it's her turn, and it's my job to make this stressful process as much fun as possible.

If I can only learn to keep my mouth shut.

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