It turns out, getting into college isn’t actually the hard part.
I mean it is. Sure. There are visits and applications, and I guess like 18 years of helping your child turn into a college-ready person, but now that my oldest has been accepted to college, I’m learning that the hoop-jumping only increases as we get closer to August.
Part of me wants to go back to that day in February, the day before his 18th birthday, as we all stood around his phone at 4 p.m., waiting for the email telling us whether he got into his college of choice, and then the joyous relief.
It’s weird how memories work, because in truth, that day was mostly terrible.
I spent the morning crying in my office, certain that if he didn’t get into his top choice school that it was my fault; that I had somehow failed him through homeschooling.
And now I find myself here again, wanting to help, but not wanting to push – wanting so much to set him up for success as he prepares to leave home.
And yet, sometimes, for a moment, I am able to take a step back and realize this isn’t about me. This isn’t my journey.
I’m the Dumbledore in this story, not the Harry.
This is hard of course, so I am coping in my usual ways – tea and Voxer – sending out messages and pleas and saying things that build up until I’m ready to burst (Instant Pot Emotions).
My friend Vanessa reminded me that maybe it’s OK to help, because teen brains are still forming, but not help too much, because my own peri-menopausal brain struggles some days to keep up with the very basics.
How many times can one wash her hands and note we are low on hand soap, and still not be able to remember to order hand soap?
(3 times so far today)
My friend Mary reminded me that all kids are different, and to just focus on what my child needs and that sadly, there is no one checklist that is going to fit every kid in every situation.
And then my friend Shawna, who is a year ahead of me in all of this, provides reassurance that I am not alone and that it will get better:
“It was nerve-wracking and dumb for six months, but it worked out.”
This is my new morning mantra.
And that’s what I’m holding on to right now, that if my child really wants to go to this college (and if it’s meant to work out), that I can relax a little; stop making lists and tugging at my hair and thinking that there’s some magical way out there to make all of this easier.
Even the box my son’s graduation party invites came in reminds me: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
But also, SHUT UP.
Because let me tell you what no stressed mother needs ever: trite little sayings.
What I 100 percent do not need right now is some Hobby Lobby plaque telling me to Live, Laugh and Hug a Terrier to get through this.
What I do need is for it to just be done – in the rearview mirror – over.
Until we get there I’m trying to remember:
This isn’t forever.
It’s an ass-kicker, but it’s not eternal.
At some point, he will either get all ready for college or not, and the difference will not come down to whether or not I worry hard enough.
It’s a high emotion time.
I’m so jacked on adrenaline, I could lift a car.
I am basically The Hulk with a bullet journal.
This is hard, yes, but it feels SO HARD because it’s such an emotional thing.
It’s OK to care so much.
All the feelings are me loving my kid.
So it’s not bad that I worry, and it’s not bad that sometimes I want to take over too much, and it’s normal to be a little bit of a lunatic right now.
Ultimately, this is his.
It’s a tricky thing when your kids become adults, because you’ve know them pretty much the whole time (or at least a lot of the time).
You know exactly who they used to be, and all the weird things they did when they were 4, but you’ve only gotten glimpses of who they’re becoming.
You can see exactly where they might struggle, and so it’s really tempting to jump in, and yet maybe your therapist also tells you to “Stop trying to fix it all, Kara.”
I was doing a journaling class this weekend and the teacher asked a broad question: Knowing that everything turns out beautifully in the end, what would you change today?
I immediately knew my answer.
I would stop acting like a nut about this college thing.
I wold stop acting like this was all so hard, such a trial.
I would do everything I could to enjoy these days with my son before things change.
Sometimes, when I get quiet, and my brain stops spinning for just a few seconds, I wonder if that’s part of the hard too – I wonder if making lists and marking deadlines on the calendar is easier than feeling the big emotions.
I wonder if my brain is tricking me – sending stress hormones flying so I don’t have to slow down and feel the huge shift happening.
I heard author Katrina Kenison say that once our kids leave for college, it’s never the same.
She said it wistfully – sadly. You could tell it hurt her heart.
I heard this on the same day that my son was accepted to college. The same day I had cried – so scared that he wouldn’t be accepted. So scared I had failed him.
We celebrated, and a few hours later I heard Katrina say “it’s never the same,” and I felt such a mix of emotions, but still the big one was relief.
I thought we had done something, and here we had actually started something.
As I was writing this, my son texted me to tell me he had found a piano on campus (he’s in early enrollment classes at our local college) and was playing for the first time in years.
It made me recall this post, and specifically what he told me then:
“Mom? I feel like I was born with music in my heart and every time someone pushes me, the space for it gets smaller and smaller.”
It’s all a good reminder that so often, our kids don’t need us to push.
They just need us to see them – to be there as they grow into who they are meant to be.
But friends, this is not the easy way.
In fact I will tell you that if you want a quick, simple method for raising your kids, you should pretty much do the exact opposite of me.
Keep ’em in line and put them in onesies that proclaim their futures before they can hold up their own heads: “Lil Linebacker” and “Baby Beauty Queen.”
But all that always felt desperately wrong to me, and so I tried this other thing …
It’s a killer. It breaks my heart. I worry sometimes that I’m getting it wrong.
I worry right now.
I worry and I want.
A few weeks ago, my son started growing a bonsai tree because of course he did.
Bonsais start differently than I expected – when they sprout, it’s not in the way you’d think – these thin little green tendrils – so fragile.
I can’t help it. I want to care for this little plant. I want to protect it from curious cats and follow the directions step by step to ensure it thrives.
It’s not my plant.
If I were to take over – even if I just tell my son what to do and still let him do it – it’s no longer his plant.
A bonsai tree can live to be more than 100 years old.
So you can see what I’m getting at here.
At some point, we have to let go.
I swear to you, he just texted again wondering about getting a degree in neuroscience.
He’s got a roommate. He’s figured out his meal plan.
He knows which dorm he wants to live in and why.
He’s thinking about majors. He’s doing the work.
I am support staff.
But also, staying here.
He’s not a fragile little bonsai sprout. The past 18 years weren’t nothing.
He strong and ready and I’m …
I’m getting there.