College (head) trips
Glenwood Springs, CO, Post-Independent
Teddy peered out of the plane window onto acres of stark trees amid scraps of dirty snow. He said apprehensively, “It looks … gloomy.” It did look gloomy. Vermont in March can be all muck and leaden skies.
“Mom!” he would say later of New England. “It rained four out of the five days we were there!”
“Well, it rained at home, too,” I’d say. It rained everywhere this spring. But he shook his head, and maybe it’s better to know.
Teddy is 17, and we’ve entered the college crunch. I found out early how much things have changed since the distant days I simply walked in, no prep, for my own entrance exams; or filled out college applications over senior-year Christmas vacation.
I’ve since blundered around diligently on his behalf, attending presentations and querying counselors, tutors and friends, yet feeling I may be missing obvious basics.
Being from the East Coast, and a product of the Northeast’s conglomeration of colleges, the most concentrated patch in the country, I’d talked my son into looking at a handful: rural, self-contained campuses that in other seasons are encased in green or flaming reds and burnt orange.
Our trip wasn’t exactly the spring break Teddy dreamed of. As his friends went off to Moab or Mexico, he stormed, “I can’t believe I’m spending spring break looking at colleges with my mother!”
Teddy and I are pretty congenial, in general. Except when I pester him about college applications. Or drive. At under 18, he couldn’t operate the rental car, so per usual he slept everywhere, awakening when I shook him to see views, or to criticize me: In one congested town, when in confusion I made a wrong turn, he said, incredulous, “You’re so sketchy!”
On our list was my alma mater, but it is one of those schools where interest and applications have exploded, coincident with a teenage-population bubble. Teddy is as good or better a candidate than I was, with broader abilities, but he protests, “I’ll never get in.”
Two alum friends told me that their children, quite qualified, were turned down. “These days you have to have a built a village in Burundi,” one emailed.
My friend Laura – whose sons Sam and Ben are 17 and 14 like Teddy and his brother Roy – and I looked with morbid fascination at an astounding list of achievements by freshmen entering one college. Even as we talked, our older sons had been up early for a 7 a.m. student council meeting, and would go all day through a 6:30-8 p.m. ACT prep session, with sports practice and homework as well.
“Maybe Sam and Teddy should start an orphanage in Guatemala this summer,” she joked. “But really, when do we let kids just be kids and hang out with their friends?”
On our trip, Teddy struck the first college from our list (deeming the student tour guide nerdy). The next place was just a maybe, and as of that night, I thought he would never possibly like the East, and with muted sorrow gave up a few dreams.
On the third day he showed shy interest in one college, and a watery sun broke out. On the last, we toured my old campus in freezing rain and wind, and he said to me, if warily, “I’m interested.
“But I’m not even going to get my hopes up,” he added, “until I see if I’m in.” Which seemed just right.
At the end of one tour, our young guide said earnestly, “I have one more thing to say. The whole application process stinks. But it ends. It really does.”
Teddy has now, with his school or either parent, visited seven colleges in Colorado, the latest this week. He liked it. I liked it.
We flip again through our brick-thick guide to colleges. But when I suggest visiting any in California and Oregon, he says no. His summer job is starting.
“It’s all so crazy,” Laura says. “But, yes, it will end.”
And then Ben and Roy will turn 17.
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Saturday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.
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