College application season anguish - The question is, whose decision is it anyhow?
My daughter, Lyla, is a senior at the regional high school this year. When school started in September, I wondered how many parents out there were like me. I'm guessing there may be as many as four hundred of us who are negotiating this last year of schooling on the Island and navigating toward what's next.
For many seniors the next step is college, and certainly for our family this has been the focus of our attention. We've looked at schools online, read insider guides to colleges, wondered about the 40 colleges that supposedly change lives. With the help of her guidance counselor, Lyla narrowed the field to about eight schools.
Then came visiting. Scheduling interviews, attending information sessions, taking tours. Sometimes it's been easy. A trip to Salve Regina in Newport ended before the information session had even begun. Lyla leaned over and whispered to me, " Mom, I don't think I can go to a school where there are crucifixes hanging." Okay.... Next.
Surprising to me, Lyla has focused on women's colleges. I came of age in an era when schools were falling all over themselves to go coed. We visited Smith and Simmons and it was fortifying to hear and see in action the powerful message of women finding and using their voices. I began to wish I'd considered this myself when I was applying.
This is part of the problem. I'm way over-invested in Lyla's decision. I know it's her choice, and the best thing I can do is to step out of the way. My head knows this at any rate, but I find myself bringing the college thing up constantly. "Did you send the essay to Hofstra? Do you want to look at Bard? When is the deadline again for Simmons? Have you thought about...."
The other morning I was up making coffee and frying bacon before the bus came. I notice a CD from Smith College lying unopened on the kitchen table, a piece of yesterday's mail. It seems they send things every few days. I wonder if this marketing strategy works. How does Lyla feel about getting the barrage of mail? I know I should keep my mouth shut, and I do for five minutes. It was still dark, for heaven's sake. But against my best judgment, I dive in.
"How do you feel about getting something from Smith every few days?"
"I don't care right now," Lyla grumbles.
I don't drop it. I explain why I'm asking, the marketing strategy and so on.
Her response says it all: " I feel excitement from them. Pressure from you. Mom, you have to know you've put so much pressure on me about the whole college thing. That's why I just want to get it over with." Bingo.
I thought I had enough perspective to trust my child0 and respect her choice. Wrong. Somehow, I've decided it reflects how well I've done raising her. It's my parental report card.
I want to do it differently than my parents did. They never took me to look at a college, asked about my applications, worried themselves at all about where I would go. I'm making up for them in the worst possible way.
Would I have cared about a college marketing strategy at 6:30 on a winter morning? No. The whole process is difficult enough without a nagging, hovering mother. I couldn't wait for her to get home from school so I could apologize. I did. Have I made new mistakes? Yes, but I'm trying.
All this talk of application deadlines avoids the really big deadline - leaving home. It covers my anxiety about whether I've done a good enough job. Will she be okay? Will I? What's really at stake is disentangling, letting Lyla go, and moving on myself into a new phase of life.
Last weekend I met another mother like me. It was at a company Christmas party, and she was the hostess. I confessed I was stressing over the whole college thing. The party was the day we, no, Lyla should have heard about early action to Simmons. She hadn't. The next thing I knew I was in the woman's office and she had College Board.com open on her computer and was taking me on a crash course of dates, extra forms, and deadlines. Here was a soul mate stumbling through the same uneven terrain.
I started to feel better. Lyla, it turns out has done really terrific job of being on top of all she needs to do. I left the party feeling really proud of her. Now, it's just a question of waiting.
Since Dec. 15, I realize I'm keeping track of what time the mail is delivered to our box. I think about whether I should collect the mail or wait and let Lyla bring it in when she gets off the bus. I've waited. I know the journey is hers, and my job is to step out of the way, and I'm trying to do just that. It's a rollercoaster ride. Each afternoon hopes are high. Each day she comes up empty there's a big letdown. Perhaps today will be the day.
Laura Wainwright, a freelance writer, lives in West Tisbury.