November 3rd (Week Eight)

Here's a strange thing if you send your child off for her senior year in high school. You are technically an EMPTY NESTER, in that you have a NEST and yet there is NO CHICK IN IT. But you are also still the parent of a senior in high school, a senior you both miss and yet also do not want back in your house staring at your blankly a year from now. They must be doing something. Ideally, they should be going to college. Therefore, where have I been for the past two weeks? Enjoying my newly-free life, possibly having brunch on a weekday, becoming friends with Quinn again?

No, Gentle Reader, I have not. I have spent the last two weeks doing battle with college applications. 

If this isn't a phase of your life right now, I assume you felt nothing. The parents of a college-bound senior just let out a collective squeak of empathy horror. What's so heartrending about all of this is how it's supposed to be easier now. That's what we parents tell each other when our children are freshmen, sophomores. "The Common App website," we say brightly, with only the tiniest twitch under one eye, "It's easier." The parents then breathe shallowly and whisper, "Right?"

And it is, sort of. The Common App does reduce a certain amount of redundancy. Your son wants to apply to four schools, you click four schools. Your son wants to apply to fourteen, it's just ten more clicks. Upload this, request that, clickclickclick, done! 

"Right?"

Not really. Every school has their own requirements, their own essays, their own brew of secret handshakes and kick-ball-change moves. Some have Early Decision, some have Early Acceptance. THESE ONLY APPEAR IDENTICAL. IN FACT, THEY ARE VERY DIFFERENT AND ONE MIGHT BE RIGHT AND THE OTHER WRONG AND YOU SHOULD HAVE A FAMILY MEETING ABOUT THAT! I suppose some kids could do this entirely on their own but, really, it's rapidly becoming a part-time job and for most students, their senior year is a full-time job in and of itself. The child does a bit, the adults around them do theirs. If your child is in a school with an active college counselor who isn't trying to help 500 equally-stressed families in the same six weeks, count yourself blessed. Most parents I know are doing the bulk of this themselves. And, if you're so inclined, spare a thought for people like me who technically home-schooled their child. 

Transcript? On me.

Parental essay? On me.

Counselor essay? On me.

School essay? Three guesses.

(Her Dad is brilliant and doing lots of things with regards to the application but I do the writing stuff because, honestly, I have no other skills.)

You have to get recommendations from people around the student who can speak to who they are in some fresh and novel way, which is a huge deal because even if people love your child very much, there is virtually no one who is excited about writing an essay. So you, the parent, gets to be both very, very grateful and fractionally hectoring, which is never a good feeling. If you know someone well enough to ask them to do something like this, you probably don't actually look forward to reminding them again, and again, and again. What profiteth a child in a supportive and nurturing educational environment if her parents no longer have friends? Then add in how the kid is nine hours ahead of us, which means we leave texts for one another and wait for the other person to wake up, a simple question like "Where did you take that Biology class again, with the teacher who sneezed?" can take 48 hours to answer. And since one of her applications is due in eight days (See: Early Decision v. Early Acceptance), this is pretty much my life right now. 

Well, that and being a sounding board for the kid. She's having the time of her life, all sort of new experiences, handling the French public transport system with sangfroid, but when she left we were told there would be homesickness. "It's always worst in November," one adult in the program told us sagely in an earlier meeting, "It's pretty much gone by December." I didn't pay much attention to this, because the kid had found this program, done the paperwork, tracked down her own recommendations (a skill I never really appreciated until last month), told me where to sign and took it to the post office herself. This was not a candidate for homesickness.

As is often the case, I was wrong. 

It's hard, being away from home. This program sends back teenagers who can confidently fend for themselves, but they got that way by fending for themselves, thinking in another language 24 hours a day, living with a family not their own, problems-solving. It's good, it's transformative, but it's really relentless. After six weeks or so, the novelty wears off and the students are left with the dawning awareness that this isn't a vacation; until May of next year, this is their life. Home - with its boring bits and its annoying bits and all those familiar bits- starts looking wonderful. So while wrestling the Common App and the beginnings of college loan paperwork-

WHICH IS EVIL MANIFEST UPON THIS EARTH.

We've also been a sounding board for someone coming up against the first real challenge of her life. She knows she's going to be fine. Her dad and I know with even greater certainty than she does. But that doesn't mean she doesn't require a little help. When my mother was 80, she had a stroke which screwed up her balance. For the rest of her life, she was dizzy all the time. Over the next year or so, she figured out that if she touched the wall of wherever she was walking, the dizziness would briefly abate. Didn't take much, no more than an index finger to the wall, but her brain would temporarily orient. That's the kid right now; she doesn't need much but every once in a while we need to be the wall she can locate, to remind her she isn't spinning, that she's actually fine. She texts, we text back. Happy to do it. Thrilled, in fact. I want to go back to Panicky, Mournful Quinn of August and say, "You know what? You're going to be more interesting and relevant to her in France than you've been to her in Los Angeles for years." But it does mean that the empty nest is currently occupied by a bird mother, texting encouragement across the seas and trying to find the paperwork for that Coursera class the baby bird took.