March Madness doesn’t always happen on the court


If all goes well this week, we’ll know which college gets the prize. No, I’m not talking about NCAA basketball. I’m talking about the Dude.

I think back to the beginning of junior year, when the great college hunt began, getting into college seemed like a crapshoot. Every admissions officer was looking for a student with a 4.5 GPA, a sports contract, or a position as the CEO of his or her own non-profit NGO, The Dude is a good student, and usually has a killer fantasy team, but anything more would require he sleep less. I tried not to worry. At least one of the schools he applied to would see his awesomeness. If nothing else, his essays were bound to be an entertaining read. He is, after all, my son.

We did the requisite campus visits, affectionately termed the Dudeapalooza tour, but at the time, The Dude was less than enthused. I dragged him from campus to campus holding tight to the idea that he’d graduate high school at some point and want to live somewhere with less nagging and more parties. The presentations left me enraptured. A seminar where I can invent my own musical instrument? A coffee addicts club? Slam poetry in the cafeteria? Dorms with wi-fi and air conditioning? Sign me up!

He spent his time texting his friends.

Although The Dude was ready for college, he wasn’t ready to fall in love with one. He didn’t have a dream school. He had a well-reasoned set of acceptable choices. Then when the fat envelopes showed up he realized he’d have to pick one.

Over the last two months, we’ve gone through various phases, with each college getting its turn as favorite. Of course, his dad and I have an opinion. My husband is five steps from making it a dictate, but I spent far too many escapades with a toddler who complied with the caveat–“you can make me go, but I won’t enjoy it.” So I’m letting him come to it on his own. Not that he’s making it easy on himself.

He’s poured over the letters, websites and the brochures as if they held some secret clue he’d missed. One university even has a virtual tour app he can access on his phone. His friends aren’t helping much. According to them, the schools he’s chosen are the wrong ones, as in they are Big Ten and not ACC, the only conference that matters.

“This is the most important decision I will make in my entire life.”

My sarcasm meter didn’t go off. He actually meant it, so I gave a thoughtful and empathetic response. “I know it feels that way, and it is probably the most difficult you’ve had to make so far, but there will be others–marriage, children, job opportunities. Let’s keep it in perspective.”

“Pfft–Marriage and children are easy decisions. If you aren’t 100% positive, you shouldn’t do either.”

Oh, the innocence of youth. I decided to stay on topic. ” A university is an aggregation of opportunities. What you learn while you’re there depends on which ones you choose to engage in. Any of these universities have the ingredients to give you what you’re looking for.” I explained he could sleepwalk through the best universities in the country and be no better off than when he started. “It’s all potential energy, but it needs you to set it in motion and choose where it leads you.”

Truthful, heartfelt, but completely incorrect, apparently. “Did you read that response in a parenting book, or did you make that up yourself?”

The lesson has been hammered into his brain. There is a right answer and a wrong answer. Period. One is expected of him. The other is a disaster. Choosing a college is just one more standardized test. Pick wrong, and he fails at life. He could have a career and four years of misery, or the time of his life followed by living in a van down by the river. He says he’s 90% sure he knows what he wants. Or maybe 80%. At least 70%

So tomorrow, we take one more trip to confirm his at least 70% decision. Unless it doesn’t. Still, he says he wants to buy logo swag. I’m taking it as a good sign, although I don’t dare read too much into it. He’s always thought the gift shop was the best part of a museum visit. I’ll believe it once we pay the deposit.

Wish me luck, or at least a plethora of good-looking coeds to help sway the decision. I’ll take whatever help I can get.

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6 comments on “March Madness doesn’t always happen on the court

  1. Gail Kushner says:

    This was delightfully written. Just the right balance of serious and humor. I loved your response regarding making the most of the college experience.

    Good luck to both of you!

  2. aviets says:

    Senior year is hard for a whole lot of reasons, but that acceptance and decision thing may be the worst. Well, except for the tours. Good grief, am I glad never to have to do a campus visit again.

    It’s unfortunate how much pressure kids feel about their decision. Personally, I had no choice – I was going to the nearby state school, according to my parents, and that was the end of it. I showed them, though. I hated the enormous, faceless school, and transferred halfway through my four years to a much smaller college. I wish it were easier for kids now to feel that changing their mind is not the end of the world.

  3. J, you never cease to inspire me with your wise parenting. I only wish I were following behind you in these Big Life Changes! As any good parent would say, you have everything you need inside to succeed. And if you haven’t heard it from any other parent, I’ll tell you now: You have nailed this job. Kudos and gratitude.

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