THE COLLEGE APPLICATION PROCESS, Part III
BY ROSIE REEL
Sirens, confetti, and balloons should have marked the declaration of our daughter’s acceptance to college.
Her application process had turned into an occupation, and waiting for a response–anything at all–had turned into a heavy cloud floating overhead. Then finally, her first acceptance letter popped onto her laptop. It was a spring morning, the pouring rain soaking this red-carpet welcome.
I learned the news during an otherwise dreary business meeting. I happened to glance down at my cell phone resting on my lap. The second I looked down, my phone lit up with a picture of our daughter, a notification she was typing. I tried to look serious during this meeting full of adults, as I admired her picture: her missing front tooth, her wispy bangs and a pink Hello Kitty headband. She wore her favorite tie-dyed T-shirt. I smiled back at my phone. I wondered why she was writing so early in the day. After all, I hadn’t even finished my tumbler of coffee. Had she forgotten something? Wasn’t she in the middle of class? Wasn’t this just as forbidden as the surveillance of my phone during this business meeting?
But then it hit me like a brick falling from an Ivy League tower: she had heard from admissions. It had to be it.
And, she must have been accepted, or she’d never had written. I had to open it.
“I got in!” she exclaimed. “I don’t believe it!”
I believed it.
Wow. So it was real. Our little girl was going to college.
“Wonderful!” I responded. “We knew you could do it!”
I looked around the room as my colleagues took turns speaking. What were they even talking about for so long? Wasn’t it time to get back to our desks? Didn’t they realize I needed to respond to my daughter’s text. Was this a movie? It felt surreal.
But of course, her announcement was wonderfully real. Other times her announcements were not so real: like when she told us she wanted to join the navy, a fleeting (pun intended) idea of hers, but remarkable nonetheless, considering she didn’t like boats that much. Plus, she had informed us both–diplomatically–addressed to “Parents” in a text, about other acceptances and rejections.
She was a go-getter. Her bravery astounded me and made me so, so proud.
But now I wished she wanted to be a homebody, a little girl who just wanted to snuggle next to me with her stuffed unicorn and listen to Good Night Moon.
Flashback to ninth grade tennis team try-outs:
“I made it!” she told me as she hopped into the car at pick-up. She was surprised to have made the cuts, since she played only part of the year. One of her closest friends didn’t make the team, so as much as I had wanted to share our daughter’s achievement with the world, there was no way I would have posted about our daughter making the team.
But going to college was news I couldn’t keep to myself. It was a parent’s duty to spread the word: and fast. Within five minutes after the meeting, I had spread the news of my daughter’s acceptance to family and friends. I would have screamed it aloud had I been at home. But I had to contain myself at my work setting, other than a huge grin I maintained all day. Once home, I would create a write-up for social media: an area of publicity I was not too sure on how to handle. It wasn’t like I hadn’t thought about it.
Everything else seemed trivial. It felt like we had waited forever to hear back and had prepared for the worst: if rejected, we would respond with the college not being a good fit, not meant to be, their loss. But with this acceptance, to a college she already knew she’d like to attend, we could celebrate.
I considered the Facebook “friends” whose teenagers did not get accepted. Would I be tormenting them if I posted the news about our daughter? Was it obnoxious to brag on social media about college acceptance? I had thought about it before now, but suddenly I was on a tight deadline. This news needed to be spread.
What if I worded it in a way that was not so braggartly. Or, what about a prop? What if I dressed our dog in the college colors and let him make the announcement? Who doesn’t like a cute little pup dressed in college attire? Or what if I dressed up our daughter’s Teddy Bear in the college colors? Now that might be cute.
I decided to perform some social media research: every single parent who had announced their child’s acceptance had been bold, loud, excited with the news. I would do the same. It would be ok:
“She got in!” I announced with a picture of our daughter in the college sweatshirt the day after we had taken a tour of the campus. There, done. Now I waited to see who responded.
Wow, I felt famous! This might be fun, I thought.
But then I noticed a new announcement from a sort-of-friend:
Her son had been accepted to the same college as my daughter and had deferred to attend another college, “an easy choice on his part”.
Wow, that felt insulting. Had this note been sent after seeing mine? Maybe, since she had “liked” my announcement only minutes before hers came out.
Should I “like” her announcement? No way. But what if she’d think her post affected me?
Well, it had. I wasn’t sure if I should be friends in real life with her anymore. While I should have just ignored her post, I had to further torment myself. I read the comments from her “friends”:
Nothing extraordinary other than this one:
“He made the right decision. Way better school.”
Now this was getting intense. I had to retaliate.
Without “liking” her page, I immediately created a bolder and more braggartly post, forgetting that Teddy Bear and puppy idea. What was I even thinking?
But wouldn’t they ask where she was going? Wouldn’t they find out? Yes, they would.
Spreading this news suddenly felt dignified and celebratory.
I am now relieved it is a memory and not today. It was honestly really hard to go through that whole college process, not just as a student, but as a parent. I had no idea how mixed up the emotions would be. While exuberant at being accepted to other colleges, crushed at some rejections, she became quite confused.
Where would she fit in? Which place was best for her?
I certainly held an opinion, based on various factors like cost, proximity, student body personality, but this was ultimately her decision. Typical of her analytical, worrying nature, she created charts and plugged in data: the pros and cons of each college. That narrowed it down to two contenders.
We flipped a coin. That was it: the winner was….not the winner. She realized the loser of the coin toss was actually her best choice.
While I was proud of my daughter for applying and being so ambitious also felt like I was one step closer to losing her. She would soon leave behind life at home. While I knew how I ought to act (I was told the right way by school counselors and other family members) I still felt conflicted: exhilarated at the idea our daughter would be going to college, but saddened at the idea of not seeing her every day.
The stress level underlying the whole process was high, red zone level stress.
It was deemed the student’s decision: where to live and study and mature for the next four or more years. Everyone said it was the student’s life, not the parent’s, so it was their decision.
“Hold the phone!” I wanted to say–and not just to confuse the youngsters–but to confront this nonsensical notion of parents as mere bystanders. My daughter leaving for college had everything to do with me! I was not ready to say good-bye. We still lived in the same house: sharing cereal bowls, laughing, quarreling. This whole process was not easy–not just on the student–but on the parent, too.
In the end, it was all worth it: the application, waiting and cluelessness that went along with the decision on where to go. As it turned out, she made a great choice. Her acceptance to college was an achievement so worth the effort.
That spring had been especially rainy and damp, so the college discount on apparel was especially appreciated by our little pup. As it turns out, his new college sweater kept him nicely snug. In fact, he received so many compliments, I made him the family college mascot. Who said this wouldn’t be fun?