“I had no idea your life was so difficult and that your mom was so ‘crazy.’ Your senior project made me cry.”
I found these words scrawled in a handmade card to my 18-year-old, valedictorian son, wedged next to the front seat of my car.
I couldn’t breathe. Then I howled. My beautiful first born. The little pee wee with the stocking cap and button nose who stared at me with huge eyes the day he was born. The toddler with white blond curls who called me “Sweetheart.”
This stranger living in my house made his senior project about me? The horrors of living with me? After everything I had done for him? Years filled with volunteering as a room-mom, midnight trips to the ER for his asthma, driving to the Getty for field trips, opening our house for movies nights and spaghetti feeds. Me?
A friend with older kids warned me that the senior year “can be kind of tough.”
No kidding! I never dreamed how hard. I found myself at odds with this person, who used to be my best friend. I alternated between yelling, cajoling and pleading with him to finish college applications, meet countless deadlines and study for exams. No wonder he called me crazy.
The stress of applying for college proved to be filled with potholes, no, make that sinkholes — the kind that swallows entire houses and families. What to declare as a major, where to live, what to write for a personal statement are enough to stress out the calmest kid.
So what else makes applying to college so awful? Try these numbers on for size:
• More than 3,000,000 high school seniors apply to college in the US — never mind the ones throughout the world trying to get into our top schools!
• The number of students who apply to seven or more colleges has grown from 9% in 1992 to 29% in 2011.
• Yale’s applications doubled from 2002 to this year, topping 30,000. Yale accepted roughly 2,000 in 2013.
• Harvard has nearly 35,000 applicants, 2029 admitted in 2013.
• The number of applicants for University of California Santa Barbara in 2013 was 62,413, They had 4,550 in the freshman class last year.
• UCLA is one of the most applied to schools in the country, with nearly 100,000 applicants, and they admit 15,000.
Between December and graduation, my son received eight out of nine college rejections –further making him love me, hate me, turn to me in need, and then reject me again. I could do nothing to help his torment. In the end, he accepted admission to his one school.
Hang in there moms of juniors and seniors. When it seems like there is nothing you can do to help, take a deep breath. Be there for support and offer advice if they ask for it. Love them, even if they are undeniably rude. Forgive yourself if you lose your temper.
I believe our kids take out their fears and frustrations on those they love most.
I am happy to report that two years later, the stranger living in my son’s skin has disappeared. I have a son who calls me the moment he finishes a final that he knows he’s crushed. He calls to ask how to cook chicken stir fry. And he calls to say he loves me.
Photos: (top) My son during graduation. (second) a beautiful baby, (above) my son when he was at the age when he thought my name was “Sweetheart,” and (below) a view of my son’s university. Not too shabby, after all.