Don’t let a bad day make you feel like you have a bad life. ~Author Unknown
Friday the 13th is usually my lucky day. I wasn’t thinking about luck this past Friday, instead, my thoughts were on my nervous stomach: my older son would be hearing back from his first and second choice colleges sometime during the day. After submitting an “Early Decision” application to his first choice and an “Early Action” to his second, we expected to hear back from both schools by the 15th of December, however, since the 15th fell on a Sunday, results were likely to arrive sometime on Friday the 13th.
On Friday afternoon, I stepped out of the house for 45 min, I was in desperate need of a pedicure and a break from writing. My son had already called me once to ask if a friend could come over that afternoon; that phone call sent my heart racing, thinking he was going to tell me he had responses from both universities.
I arrived at the salon at 2:00 pm and as I settled into the large massage chair and placed my feet in the warm soapy water, DJ Khaled and Justin Bieber’s “I’m The One” played on my phone: one of my boys was calling and I could see my older son’s name light up on the screen.
I clumsily swiped right to answer the call.
“Mom? Mom, I didn’t get into Chapman,” he said.
“What?” I asked. I could barely hear him
“Didn’t you get my text?” he asked
“You’re teasing! What text?” I said.
“Mom, check your texts,” he told me.
I disconnected and checked, sure enough, he had cut and pasted the email:
“After careful review of your application, we regret to inform you that we cannot offer you admission…”
I didn’t read any further. Chapman was his first choice, the school that he felt was the right fit for him and after visiting, I thought so as well.
I called him back.
“Honey, I am so sorry. So very sorry” I struggled with the words, tears forming.
He was silent on the other end.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll be okay,” he said.
“What about your second choice?” I asked.
“I heard back. They need to do a holistic review.”
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I wish I was there”
“I know Mom.”
I disconnected and sat in the chair. Shock, anger, and disappointment washed over me. I thought about the discussion he and I had about what he wanted to do with his life after high school; he had decided he wanted to go on to a four-year college.
I supported his decision, making it clear to him that it would be up to him to work with his college counselor at school, I didn’t want to be a tiger mom telling him what to do or kicking him in the butt to meet his deadlines. Acceptance into college would be up to him.
My son did all the work, I didn’t hire a college coach, nor did he ask me to. Instead, he scheduled meetings with his school college counselor and researched schools that appealed to him.
He asked for letters of recommendation from his teachers and came up with a solid theme for his personal essay, his theme and ideas were his, not mine.
As tempted as I was, I didn’t offer to read or edit his essay; the essay had to be in his own words and his own vernacular.
I encouraged, supported, and cheered him as he met his deadlines: application, application essay, SAT scores, letters of recommendation, thank you notes and FAFSA forms.
His extracurriculars were all things that he had done on his own, the list was long and spanned years from Cub Scouts to Eagle Scout, from Leader in Training to assuming Leadership roles. My son said he discussed these experiences as well as the opportunity to present at Oracle Open World this past September. He felt he had a well-round personal essay.
His SATs were good: he tested three times and was in the 90th percentile for all three. The one obstacle that stood in his way was his GPA: he was not a 4.0 student and his school did not offer AP classes. Last summer I suggested taking classes at our local community college in lieu of AP classes, but he politely declined. My son was now dealing with his mediocre 3.0 GPA: his sophomore and first half of his junior year grades were not stellar, and his GPA was a gray cloud, waiting to rain on his parade.
“We look at the entire student, not just their academic performance” he was told when the college admissions counselor from his first choice came to his high school. The same statement was repeated when we flew down to tour the campus. We were optimistic.
Three letters of recommendation had been written. I didn’t dream of asking his teachers what they wrote, but I would imagine they covered his growth over his four years in high school. My son’s high school college counselor made a personal statement about how Lyme and ARFID had affected his academic performance during his first 2-1/2 years in high school, and that his GPA was trending upwards his Senior year.
As the nail technician applied polish to my toes, I wondered: “Did I wait too long to get help for him? Did I make the right decision, having him do this on his own?” as I doled out harsh criticism on myself.
I passed the “advocate for yourself” baton to him years ago. I know that he knows what he needs to do to drive his life after high school, and though I want to hold his hand or take the wheel – it is not my place to do it.
At the age of 16-1/2, my son decided he was ready to drive. I left everything up to him: he had to research what he needed to do take the driver’s ed class, the permit process, and behind-the-wheel instruction and test.
When other parents asked me if he was driving and told them “Not yet” – they were surprised and admit to me that they had done the research, scheduled the appointments, and set everything in motion so that by the time their kid turned 16, the behind-the-wheel appointment was set up and ready to go. I wasn’t a lawnmower parent. I would usually reply to these parents “If my son has to rely on me to set up his Driver’s Education then he’s not mature enough to drive.”
A month after he turned 17, my son successfully passed his driver’s test; he takes the responsibility of driving seriously and knows it is a privilege to drive, a privilege he had earned on his own.
I left the salon and when I arrived home, I found my son in his bedroom. I pulled him in for a hug. Words weren’t necessary: we were both disappointed and upset.
My son went out with friends that night and on Saturday morning he came into my office.
“I feel stupid,” he said
“Why?” I asked
“Because I didn’t get into Chapman.”
“You’re not stupid. It’s their loss” I told him.
I admit: I was upset and disappointed. I wondered if they really “looked at the entire student”. I wondered if his GPA was the culprit. I was angry that despite years of telling my son to focus on grades and apply himself, he didn’t. I was unfairly directing my anger and disappointment toward him.
“Mom, I know you’re upset. I am too but I just want you to know that college I attend does not define who I am” he said.
In his academic career, It didn’t matter what he did or didn’t do. It didn’t matter what I did right or what I did wrong along the way.
He was correct: this rejection did not define him, instead, it just opened my eyes to the fact: I raised an adult.