The College Search – Tips

I spent last weekend looking at colleges with my daughter. Of course, it had been my plan to complete this process a bit earlier this time around, yet here we are, the fall of senior year, we’re ready to launch, and we are just finishing up our college visits. However, I do think we are in pretty good shape. Of the final three remaining school visits, one is a third visit—to sit in on classes—at the current first choice school; one is an “official” visit to my son’s college; and one is a school that was added to our list just this week. Once those visits are complete, we’ll stop visiting. But for those of you just beginning this process—no matter the age of your child—I have compiled a list of helpful tips.

Start Early. Let’s face it. High school guidance is not what it once was. I remember in my public school days, we sat down with a guidance counselor and developed a list of the colleges we should investigate. That list contained safety schools, reach schools, and several schools in between. Perhaps that is why I have helped my children to create lists of schools that run the gamut. And then we have taken the time to investigate each school and visit the most promising schools on the list, a time-consuming process that should be started in late sophomore or early junior year. Even in the fall of senior year, our list is changing, evolving, and constantly re-ordering.

Invest your time. If you pay attention on the tours, you will know where you will be investing your resources—both your money and your child. If I am going to invest a good deal of money in a school, I want to know about it. Recently, I was on a tour with another mother who was so busy texting that she was not at all focused on anything the tour guide was saying. I felt bad for her daughter, who will receive little meaningful advice from her mother, and I also felt bad for the tour guide, who was more than aware of this mother’s inability to put her phone away and offer her full attention.

Be an advisor in the process. High school seniors are still kids in so many ways. The decision of which college to attend is a big one. My kids have always attended the local schools and been with the same people. How do they know where they will be happy for the next four years? I can gently guide and suggest, and I can push them complete each step of the college process. I can pay attention to things we see and hear on the college visits, but most importantly, I can listen to what my child is saying and how he/she is reacting on our various campus visits.

Don’t be afraid to say the things your child needs to hear. I have been known to comment on the minimal endowment of a school and how that shows fiscal instability. I have commented on the glaring lack of students on a campus as well as inattentive faculty and staff. I have also been known to say, “That wasn’t the cleanest campus I’ve seen,” because maintenance is often the first area where cuts are made. As parents, we can spot problem areas that our children might miss.

Trust your gut (and teach your son or daughter to do the same). Every college campus has its own atmosphere and feel. When you walk onto the campus, you will get a feel for whether the school is a place you will be comfortable or not. The students, the buildings, the attitudes are all apparent, and they all reveal secrets. Pay attention. Feel the feels. If you don’t feel enlivened and comfortable with what you see, it’s probably not the school for you. Then again, if you look around and think, “I could definitely be happy here,” maybe it is your school.

Watch your step. And finally, a tip for the wanderer. If you decide to wander around a school on your own, be careful. Some doors will lock behind you. Those with a school ID can use it to unlock the doors, but those without may find themselves trapped in a hallway or stairwell they didn’t intend to be trapped in. I have no reason (at least not one that I will admit) to know this information. I will just say, trust me on this one. Check all doors before you let them close.

As I finish up my second time through this process, I am constantly learning. Next time, I’m going to complete the college search earlier, especially because my youngest has very busy summers. But also, I have a feeling the third time around—the last time—I might be able to get it right.

Raising Teens

A month or so ago, a local teenager made a reckless decision and the decision had dire consequences. The story was on the news and all over social media, and the accompanying images were horrific. On social media, the responses to the story were brutal.

“Serves him right!”

“Where are the parents?”

“I have a 15 year old, and I always know where my teen is.”

I experienced such a visceral response to these comments that made it difficult for me to write anything for a time. Some time has passed, but this story still claims a large chunk of my emotional energy. There are a couple of points on which I remain stuck.

First of all, what’s up with the bullying among adults? Is it any wonder that we have bullying issues in our schools? When children see their parents making comments like these, they must begin to believe this is the way to respond to other people. And with the exponential growth of social media, there is no question that children see what their parents post—even their responses to news stories. After all, the parent’s name is attached to the comment, so anonymity… it’s not really a thing in an online community.

Perhaps these comments are born out of the need to uphold one’s own superiority, but it seems we have become so competitive that we have lost sight of compassion. The I am better than you mentality has taken over society, and we are unable to reach out to those who are suffering without claiming some imaginary trophy and keeping score. Bullying starts at home. It starts with adults who see no problem with posting brutal responses to tragic stories because they need to feel that they are better than others—just as a school-yard bully would do; they need to claim the position as better parents, better guardians of their teens, more efficient workers, etc. This competition is so destructive to society.

This situation reminded me of another horrible accident a year or so ago in which five teenagers were killed in a head-on collision on the highway. It was late at night and they were driving home from a concert. A man with a mental illness and a commitment to destruction of everything around him was driving the wrong way on the highway after a failed mental health visit to the ER. Now, if you have ever encountered a wrong-way driver on the highway in the dead of night, you understand how extremely disorienting it can be. You will likely not even realize what is happening until the other driver has passed, at which point you slam on the brakes and think, “Wait, what just happened??” If I’d been on that road that night, I wouldn’t have stood a chance just as these kids didn’t stand a chance. Yet, in the comments of this news story, responders blamed the parents for letting their teenagers attend a concert. I’m not sure when it became irresponsible to allow a teenager to attend a concert, but I digress.

As for the commenter who always knows where her teenager is…. I can pretty much guarantee that she does not. I have worked with teenagers for thirty plus years, I have three teenagers of my own, and I (sometimes) understand how teenagers think. It’s not necessarily that they disobey, but rather, they omit. History and literature are rife with examples: Rapunzel, Romeo and Juliet… these parents thought they knew what their teens were doing, as well. But in truth, try as we might, we don’t always know where our teens are and what they are doing. Maybe it’s okay not to always know. In fact, maybe it’s healthy to give our teens an increasing amount of space to make their own choices and decisions as they grow and mature. How are kids supposed to learn responsibility and how to face tough decisions if they are not given the room to do so?

Over the years, I have worked with some practically independent kiddos, and I have worked with others who still need a good deal of guidance; I have taught A students and F students; I have worked with wonderful young leaders and painfully shy followers. And I have seen everything in between. All of the teens I have worked with over so many years have one thing in common: they all have a still-maturing teenage brain that is not fully able to think through all of the consequences of a decision, and therefore, they are prone to making the occasional bad decision. It is through these questionable decisions that teens grown and learn how to make better decisions.

Maybe we could all work together to encourage our teens—and all the teens we come in contact with—to make smart decisions. And maybe we could work together toward healthier reactions and less judgment. If our first response is to have compassion rather than to chastise, we might be able to build some mighty bridges and educate our children in the process. After all, our children learn far more from our actions than they do from our words.

{Image is a photo taken by my daughter}

Simple Things

This week, it happened again….

One morning, early in the week, I was finishing up lunches and water bottles, preparing to send my kids out the door for their day at school. I usually add a few pieces of fruit to my water and my daughter’s, so we will have a hint of flavor as we stay hydrated throughout the day. I find if I put it in the bottom of the bottle before I add the ice, it stays out of the way.

Right now in New England, we are moving past our summer fruits. The berries and soft orchard fruits—like peaches—are not as readily available. Pineapple, various melons, and citrus fruits will become our go-to choices for the winter. On this particular morning, it was a few leftover strawberries combined with orange slices—a pretty tasty combination.

The minute I made the first cut into the orange peel, the zest sprayed out, filling the kitchen with its strong, distinct scent. This scent is one that speaks unmistakably of winter and holidays to me. On this morning, the smell brought me instantly to thoughts of Dad—the neatest orange peeler ever—and my childhood home; every year, just before the holidays, my parents buy oranges from a local high school citrus sale.

And suddenly, I began to wonder who might help Mom with the sorting and moving of her oranges this year—the boxes are bulky and heavy. And the grief came flooding in like a tsunami.

From that one simple act of cutting an orange, the week continued with moments of grief both intense and ephemeral. And on Friday, I walked out the door of my office building on a hazy, humid, and partly sunny day to a rainbow in the sky directly in front of me. It hadn’t rained, and the sun was struggling to shine brightly through the haze. And yet, there it was, a beautiful swath through the sky.

This grief thing… it can be a thorny path. But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that grief is not something to be overcome. Maybe, tucked in among the thorns, we find the beauty of the roses.

{Photo of oranges by Mateus Bassan on Unsplash}

Mac and Cheese

All of my children have learned (or are currently learning) to drive a manual transmission. And they have all done an excellent job; it’s an important skill, and one that is becoming less common.

So the other day, my daughter came to me and said, “How long—on average—do you think it takes to learn to drive a stick shift?” By the way she asked, I figured she had the answer.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “How long?”

“Well, I was taking this online quiz about the average time it takes to learn certain skills, and that was one of the questions. I said 10 hours, but the answer is 67.”

“67 hours?” I questioned. That seems like a bit too much. WAY too much, actually. She nodded. I shook my head, “I don’t think it takes that long. Where was this quiz you were taking?”

“It was a BuzzFeed quiz.”

I burst out laughing. “And you believe everything you learn on BuzzFeed?”

“Mom!” she said, sarcasm oozing. “BuzzFeed has the best quizzes. I took one that determined how many kids I should have based on my macaroni and cheese preference!

Well, I guess a penchant for macaroni and cheese couldn’t hurt when it comes to raising kids….

Positivity Post: Lessons from the Bug

Last week, I was driving to my son’s college to drop him off for the start of the school year. The car was stuffed to bursting with all of the necessities of college dorm life, so much so that my son was in the car in front of me. We were traveling up the highway at a good clip when a peculiar bug appeared from somewhere in the back of the car, flew directly between my face and the windshield, and settled on the window of the driver side door. I batted at it, and as I started to roll down the window, it flew to the windshield.

The bug was long and thin and black and pointy like it would sting with a vengeance. My daughter was in the seat next to me, pressing up against the door and watching as I frantically batted at the bug. I was not sure whether I was trying to kill it or brush it out the window—whatever was necessary to remove it from the car—all the while continuing to drive at highway speeds. My window was open, and each time I tried to flick it out, it would fly in the other direction.

“Mom, I think you should pull over,” my passenger commanded. “You’re going to crash the car if you don’t.” She had a point. I turned on my directional signal, glanced in my completely blocked rear view mirror, and pulled to the side of the road, my tires buzzing across the rumble strip.

At this point, the bug was on the windshield, and as I tried to move it toward my open window, it flew to the other side of the car and landed on my daughter’s window. She shifted to the other side of her seat as she slowly and carefully rolled down her window and was able to coax the bug out of the car. She quickly put up the window before it found its way back in, and we carefully pulled onto the highway, navigating the blind spots (i.e. anything behind me or to my right) provided by the cargo.

A few miles ahead, we merged with another highway, and as we did, I looked to my right, attempting unsuccessfully to check the right lane around my loaded car. As I did so, I was surprised to see the bug clinging to the outside of the passenger window.

“That bug must be mad at you,” I said to my daughter. “It’s clinging to your window.”

But it wasn’t long before its thread-like legs couldn’t hold on through the winds of highway speed travel, and it was gone. But this got me thinking…. The bug was clinging to what it thought was safe, what it knew. Letting go was a much bigger risk because the bug didn’t know what would happen to it when it let go. Yet, letting go would provide it with the very freedom it was seeking.

How many things do we hold on to because we can’t see the unknown? How often do we cling to what is safe and familiar when we might be better off if we take a risk, let go, and tumble through the unknown, growing wings and strength as we go?

Perhaps next time I find myself in a situation where I’m clinging to what is safe, I’ll remember the lesson of the bug. Rather than using all of my strength to hold on, maybe I’ll take a risk—let go and enjoy the ride. Taking a risk may be scary, but gaining newfound freedom might just be priceless!

Sibling Challenge

Through years of parenting and even more years of working with teenagers, I have gained a certain perspective on teen shenanigans. When this weekend started out with a “friendly competition,” I knew things were not headed in a positive direction.

We were getting ready to leave for a weekend away, and we were rushing around to take care of the few final tasks that had to be completed before our departure. We needed to dispose of the garbage and load the car. My youngest agreed to “take a quick run” to the condo dumpster. But instead of walking, he thought he would ride his bike.

Now, anyone with more than one teenage boy knows that nothing is real—or fun—unless it is made into a competition of some sort. In this case, “a quick run” became the point of competition.

“I’ll get down there and back before PiE gets here,” my son announced. “But instead of walking, I’ll take my bike.” His bike was lying in the front yard waiting to be loaded onto the bike-rack.

“I’m gonna time you!” challenged his older brother. “I’ll start the timer as soon as you get outside.”

“NO!” I told them, sternly. “We are going away, and if you race to the dumpster, you’re liable to end up hurt. I don’t want to be taking you to the ER before we leave. Or spending the weekend at the hospital, thank you very much.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” W pronounced as he continued out the door, grabbing the garbage on his way.

“Don’t race!” I hollered after him, but my command fell on deaf ears as he strapped on his helmet and took off at break-neck speed, his brother’s challenges urging him on. “Ugh!” I groaned in his wake as C focused on the stop-watch on his iPod.

It was only seconds before C was running out the door to check W’s progress, fully expecting to see his little brother disappearing in the distance. He stood outside for a minute, yelling after W, and then he came back into the kitchen, laughing. “He fell,” he informed me. “He was standing at the bottom of the hill saying, ‘Mom was right!’” Of course, these kids joke around so much, I didn’t fully believe him.

But sure enough, when W returned to the house, he had an odd combination of scrapes and cuts—his left elbow and his right thigh and ankle. While his injuries didn’t require medical attention, they did slow him down (just a bit) during our weekend adventures.

The lesson learned, “Mom was right,” could be priceless. But this lesson will fade as quickly as the pain of the road rash, and he will have to be reminded, once again, that sometimes Mom can see into the future and can predict how things will end. Some lessons need to be learned again and again in order for them to eventually… maybe… stick.