Stay away from the light

bugzapperI was chatting with the mother of a rising freshman. We talked about the social scene, dating, drugs, drinking and all of the rumors and realities of high school life. I reassured her that her son would be fine, but it was time for her to build up some armor.

You will attend a parent coffee, I said. You will find a group of moms near the food table, and they will be comparing notes about their children; how many AP classes they are taking, how many years ahead they are in math, and how they’ve already taken the SAT to get a baseline as they start their college preparations. As freshmen.

They will ask you how many sports your child plays, who they study oboe with, and insist that colleges like to see at least one study abroad experience before junior year. They will give you the business card of a consultant who will begin to build your child’s curriculum vitae, and will tell you to call today, since you should have started in kindergarten.

Be strong, I said. You are the bug and it is the big blue buzzing light. Stay away. The room is full of sanity. Find it.

The Dude always knew when I’d gotten scorched. I’d start talking about the cello and lacrosse and maybe he’d like to spend a summer learning quantum physics.  I’d worry that I was too busy writing to pay sufficient attention. The Dude assured me that if I paid any more attention to him, I might as well put a microchip in him like a family pet. I didn’t remind him that his cell phone served the same function. Find Friends is an awesome app. Eventually, I believed him.

But the Dude came home last night from an evening with some friends all freaked out. The colleges he was considering were all lame. If he wasn’t going to Northwestern, UVA or Michigan it wasn’t worth it. His life was over.

I wasn’t paying enough attention. He got zapped.

Having a razor thin definition of success is the easiest path to failure. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but it’s not the only way to connect them. Wearing blinders doesn’t keep you focused, it keeps you from seeing new alternatives. The chances he’s going to Michigan, UVA or Northwestern are small. His chances of being awesome are 100%. All he has to do is get there, step by step. His steps won’t look like anyone else’s, not because he’s the Dude, but because everyone’s does.

Besides, I said. I know plenty of people who took a rocket ship from A to B only to find that B wasn’t all that great. All he had to do was look at his parents. Money is an easy measurement trap to fall into.  Salary isn’t always correlated with happiness. It doesn’t hurt, but it can’t make up for the misery of being in a life that isn’t yours.

The Dude took it all in, and I searched his face for a reaction.

His face said, blah blah blah, my mother’s mouth is moving. After all what do I know?

Well Dude, I know a lot more than you think. I’ve been there, I’m your Mom, and I’m also a badass.

And if that’s not enough, I have a master’s degree from Northwestern. You might have heard of it.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Bug Zapper” by David Keyser © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

11 comments on “Stay away from the light

  1. aviets says:

    I love your attitude. I’ve been there with three kids, and it’s ah exhausting, fine line to walk. And…our oldest graduated from Northwestern. It was perfect for her, but in our opinion not an option for our two younger, though equally bright kids who both want to be teachers. It wouldn’t have been a smart move to come out of college with that much debt when you’ve got to live on a teacher’s salary. So our two youngest are at state schools, and like you I think all of our little darlings are 100% awesome! -Amy at

    • Thanks Amy. Every kid has their own road to walk. It’s comforting for our kids to see people they know taking the same route, but it’s no guarantee. They could be hopelessly lost. The dude needs to learn the sound of his own voice, and when he does, it will show the way.

  2. Rabbiting On says:

    When are you going to write a novel? Or have you already written one I don’t know about?

    • Hi Rabbiting On – I’ve been working on a novel for some time that I’m hoping to finalize this year. If you know any agents, send them my way. 🙂 I have the primordial soup of novel number 2, which I will start structuring as soon as I start shopping the first. I hope this means you’d be interested in reading it!

      • Rabbiting On says:

        Oh definitely! Sadly I’m not friends with either Mr Faber, Mrs Bloomsbury or Mr Penguin but if I were you would have an instant best seller on your hands. We have a Dude of our own, also going through exam hell, and we hope he might feature.

  3. April says:

    Oh, I had a response but accidentally deleted it. Must have been a sign that I was blah-blahing as well. Great advice to stay away from the zapper!

  4. aviets says:

    I’ve nominated you for a Liebster Award. Details at

  5. Jeannine, you really need to have an advice column for nervous parents. I bet this vein of writing has gone all the way from pre-school to the present. This particular entry should be in the section ‘awaiting the birth of your first child’. Such wisdom and humor – the latter being perhaps the more important, the former highly over-rated, in the actual raising-of-a-child. Brava once again 🙂

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