by Joanie Butman
Daylight saving time marks the onset of my annual winter hibernation. Like someone preparing for a siege, I’ve got a stack of books, plenty of wood and a comfortable chair waiting by the fireplace. During the spring and summer I feel guilty if I’m not out taking advantage of the beautiful weather in some way. However, winter’s frigid temperatures and shortened daylight hours afford me the opportunity for plenty of cozy time reading by the fire, eating comfort food and drinking copious amounts of hot chocolate.
This year there’s an even more compelling reason for retreating to my safe haven by the fire. As the mother of a high school senior, college insanity is at fever pitch. I don’t know the solution to the manic intensity that surrounds the college application process, but I’m relieved this is the last time I need to be involved. Then again, you don’t necessarily need to have a senior to be affected by the college buzz about town, it’s pervasive.
Our children are under enormous pressure from an early age to overachieve in order to garnish a coveted place in a good college. Much of this pressure is driven by parents. While bemoaning this phenomenon recently with a friend, he explained that entrance into a brand name college is now considered the ‘Good Parenting Seal of Approval.’ How sad. I’ve never considered my children’s academic aptitude (or athletic ability) as a reflection of my proficiency as a parent – especially since their skills in both areas far surpass anything I could have passed down.
Regarding choosing a college, I’d say our family falls somewhere in the middle of the crazy spectrum, which ranges from cool indifference to psychotic. The application process went as expected with a certain amount of drama and angst, but nothing compared to many others. Even so, there’s a level of tension that seeps in regardless of how hard you try to protect yourself. You simply can’t witness the frenzy at school, at cocktail parties, in the grocery store, etc. and not be affected. Seriously, I think there will be more than a few cases of PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) after the dust settles. I’m still recuperating from my daughter’s senior year.
Just last night at a cocktail party (one last exception to my winter hiatus) I met a woman who shared that her son got into his fifth choice of school – Middlebury. I don’t know what his first four choices were, but he must be a smart kid. The point she made was, despite his obvious disappointment, it was the best place for him and he thrived – which is all any parent wants for their child anyway, right? Her son is now well beyond college and being rejected from those first four schools hasn’t had any adverse side effects.
No one can deny the fact that being a legacy or having a V.I.P. connection can boost your chances of acceptance. My son asked me one day, “Are you sure you don’t have any peeps that can help me out?” My answer was not the one he was looking for as I assured him, “Oh, I’ve got the ultimate Peep. He may not get you in where you want to go, but He will get you in where you need to go. Of that I am certain.”
That doesn’t mean my son won’t be disappointed if his first choice school doesn’t accept him, but that’s life. The reality is: life is filled with disappointments. Learning to deal with them is a valuable life lesson. As Barbara Johnson astutely asserts, “The difference between winning and losing is how we choose to react to disappointment.” Fortunately, we have a glut of great schools in this country from which to choose. There’s a place for everyone. Acceptance or rejection to a particular school shouldn’t define anyone’s self-worth – the child or the parents. At the end of the day, the true value of an education is not going to be where you get it, but what you do with it. At least, that is what I choose to believe.
While I’m busy sitting by the fire reading this winter (and waiting to hear the results of my son’s applications), I choose to relax and trust that God’s plan for him is far better than anything I could imagine and that wherever he is accepted will be the beginning of a wonderful adventure.