Last week I bumped into a friend whose daughter is a high school senior. Like many of her peers, she’s very caught up in the college application process and eagerly awaiting acceptance letters. Needless to say, her enthusiasm is infectious and my friend is so excited about her next steps. I’m in a similar spot, with my two in their senior year of *gasp* college and similarly excited for what comes next. I’m completely thrilled about making my last tuition payments, but it’s bittersweet as well. The conversation with my friend reminded me of something I wrote during February of my kids’ senior year of high school, the sentiment of which still rings true for me:
My daughter just forwarded me an email—appending exclamation points and smiley faces—from one of the schools she applied to, saying they’ll be sending out acceptances between March 1 and March 15. She’s nervous about acceptances but excited for her next steps so she was thrilled to learn she’ll get at least one answer really soon. For me, a moment of relief that the answers are coming was quickly replaced by an urgent desire to hit the Pause button on life. Yes, I’m excited for her and yes, I’m confident that she’ll have some good choices. But I also feel like we only have a few more days in the world of Anything Is Possible. Work Hard And You’ll Be Rewarded. Because as much as I’m proud of my hard-working and accomplished daughter, I also know there will be some no’s coming in the mail. It’s just the nature of the schools she’s applied to. And while we’ve talked about that possibility and her logical, rational self understands that a rejection letter from a college is not a repudiation of her or a vote of no confidence, that there isn’t a math formula to divide 1,500 acceptances by 22,000 applications without a large remainder of disappointment, she hasn’t actually received a rejection yet and I’m sure the logical self will not be the only one that reads the letter.
I suppose part of wanting to pause the process is that since “because you want to go to a good college” has been such a huge subtext of what she, her brother and their friends have done the last few years, these acceptance and rejection letters seem like a sort of Rubicon in teenage life. She’s worked her tail off in school not only because she’s smart, curious and a hard worker, but because she believes that doing so will open doors for her—and the door she (like most high school students) hears about most frequently is “good college.” I know she has a great future no matter where she goes to school, I know that whichever school is lucky enough to get her will do a fantastic job of preparing her for a bright future, and I know that not every school she has applied to will accept her. But right now, Feb. 28, everything is still open. And that’s a pretty awesome place to be.
The next six or eight weeks will be a whirlwind: the fun-stress of deciding and planning for next year while wrapping up senior year, times two. There will be some tears shed between now and then, presumably of both happiness and disappointment. There will be some more “lasts:” last school musical, last choir concert, last spring break, last soccer game. There will be a double 18th birthday celebration. We’ll probably look back on this time and feel like everything has been in fast-forward as we hurtle towards a college choice, that we didn’t have time to stop and think about things—which is not necessarily a bad thing for a mom facing the empty nest years! She’ll come out of this with a different set of doors open to her, ones I hope she’ll look at with excitement rather than regret. And perhaps more than anything right now, I hope that when we get to that place, we can stop and smell the roses for a few minutes. Because that will be a pretty awesome place to be, too.