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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The College Visit

Though we have a child in college already, this is our first experience with what has become a very standard part of late high-school life, the college admission tour.  Luke made his decisions based on on-line data:  pictures, descriptions, testimonies, impressions, as well as on prayer and advice.  The first time he set foot on the Yale campus was when we dropped him off.  God knows our limitations and He has given Luke a great place, a great choice, in spite of minimal input.  But since we're in America for a few months, we thought we should try to see a few schools with Caleb.  There were a couple of times we've been able to stop at a school en route to a family or supporter event, though most of our travel has been without him (including visits to Wheaton, Covenant, and the Air Force Academy on our way).   But now that he's here again and we have a couple of weeks, we asked him if he'd like to see anyplace else. . .  . which led us a couple of days ago to decide on a quick two-day one-night trip southward, to UVA and Duke.  

So here's my plug for such a trip.  Two parents devoting two days to one kid, not very normal in our lives (except maybe when we flew emergently with Caleb on a MAF plane to have his appendix out).  Junior year, relaxed, no pressure.  The visits aren't interviews, they are sales shows for the school, where students are being courted not evaluated.  A little glimpse ahead for the student, which probably puts some of the hard work required now, in perspective.  Maybe it's worth putting in the effort for a class that is actually a stepping stone to a pretty amazing environment of learning and social life.  A view down the road a few years.  Being treated as a person who has potential, and ideas, and value.  A step away from the sequence of high school life, to imagine the possibilities.  Insightful for the parents, to see up close that college is not the same as we remember.  Yet remembering that it was a great time in our lives, and communicating that enthusiasm.  The haunting awareness for us of how blessed students in America are, or how idyllic these enclaves of 300 activities and 60 majors and massive libraries and a thousand professors really are.

I'm sure most of our peers do a dozen of these visits.  Or more?  We're thankful to have managed two official days, sitting through the admissions spiel, going on the requisite tours (in spite of these two days being the coldest in the year!).

But the college visit also carries the shadow of the clock, ticking.  It is the beginning of the end.  On Sunday, I was talking to another parent about his very successful college-age son, a parent who has been through many challenges, and he said "this is the hardest time of parenting yet".  I appreciated that validation, I thought maybe it was just me.  No, we don't wake up at all hours to someone calling "mom-I have to go to the bathroom", we don't have temper tantrums in public places, we can eat a meal all siting down sanely.  But this launching age is perhaps the most bittersweet.  It pulls at our hearts.  The stakes are high.  The emotions are raw.  I am aware of my failures, of not communicating unconditional love, of not focusing enough energy or preparation, of not protecting or providing.  Between 2010 and 2015, d.v., we'll be launching four kids, all bright and beautiful people.  But as the admissions officer today said:  80% of our applicants could succeed here, but we can only admit 15%.  Which means that statistically speaking, it's possible for any one kid who could thrive in any one school to be rejected.  Even five or six or seven times.  And even after being admitted, the daily challenges continue of managing time, grasping material, meeting deadlines, maintaining integrity, making choices, forming friendships, planning the future . . well, it's all enough to keep a mother's (or father's) heart on the knife-edge of faith, waiting for the last-minute ram in the thicket, God's 11th hour provision.

Meanwhile, I'm glad that for now, with Caleb, we are just VISITING colleges.  That at the end of the day, we get to leave WITH him.  Which is the best part of all.


Walking to China said...

It really is a sad and yet wonderful reality that we raise our children for independence...and then they go. We are also doing the college visit tour with our daughter next summer. The realization of how far away we will be when she goes to college is overwhelming!

Roberta Simmons said...

Jennifer . . . yes, I couldn't agree more. The hardest part of parenting (once you see the "big picture of it" from the inside) is the letting go. The launching. You'll never feel "good" about it no matter how you handle it. No matter how smoothly or broken it turns out to be. It hurts. Just plain hurts. More for the parent, for sure, than the launched. Yet, there is a sweetness about learning how to love well while letting go. Talk about a paradox! Bittersweet best describes it. Rich, unexpected depths get plumbed in your heart. And hilarious moments break the sad and crazy times. Just remember WHO is forming/reforming your heart during this time . . . and theirs. You will survive . . . it just takes a bit of time, perspective and trust.