Take one overachieving, slightly high-strung daughter who is putting her entire self out there for college admission officers like her mother to “evaluate” (“That’s just a PC way of saying ‘judge,’ “she told me in the car.) And mix with a deaf yet loving grandfather who is a member of the Greatest Generation. My dad adores my daughter and thinks that she, along with her siblings and cousins, are the brightest stars in the universe, yet at Thanksgiving he is determined to interrogate her on her first quarter Senior year grades and the response (or lack thereof) on her Early Decision application to a competitive east coast University. As we pass the mashed potatoes, he barks out (loudly because he can’t hear) a list of questions worthy of any enhanced interrogator: Why haven’t you heard back yet? Does that mean you didn’t get it? She cringes, then smiles and answers politely and briefly, trying not to cry at the table. She’s overcome with the stress and emotion of the college application process and, short of cutting my dad off mid-sentence, I am struggling with how to salvage the family dinner. You’ve heard of the sandwich generation? That would be me, diverting Dad with those mashed potatoes, trying to respond to his enthusiasm and interest, while needing to protect my daughter from his well-intentioned barrage.
Before my own children went through this process, I thought that the biggest challenge of shepherding them through it would be driving over unfamiliar terrain to all the college visits. Frankly, that was the fun part. We drove; we sang; we lunched all over the northeast. But when the list had been finalized, and ED or Early Action applications had been submitted, the stress began in earnest. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rang in my ears: the waiting is definitely the hardest part, made worse by the prospect of waiting in public at family holiday gatherings, neighborhood open houses and church fairs. Throughout the holiday season, everyone knew she was applying to college, and everyone was really excited to talk about it. Except her. My job was to shield her from those questions. Giving her an out sometimes, giving others a caution sometimes, and telling her, as often as possible, what any good mom tells her lovely daughter on the brink of a very big decision: You will know what’s right when the time comes. You will have choices. You will go to college and be happy.
Guess what? I was right.