I didn't sit, as there probably wasn't room for two chairs. Instead, I stood next to the guidance counselor -- a woman with disobedient hair and unusually thin wrists -- as she nervously flitted about the tiny room. She wasn't looking at me as she perfunctorily asked me where I wanted to go to college. There happened to be a full-color Colgate University brochure on her desk. I remember picking it up and looking at it and thinking "there" though I didn't know where "there" was or how one went about being part of all that green and brick. On my way out, she handed me an application for state school, while calling "next" to the line of waiting students in the hall.
That was the full extent of my college-application process. There were no SAT prep classes consuming my Saturdays. There were no after-school tutor sessions. I ran for class president, not because of any resume, but because I wanted to validate my popularity. I studied enough and did just enough homework to have grades that didn't cause me shame, but no more than that.
Because of this, there were gaps in my days and weeks and years for memories. Memories like drinking Tangelo down Scotty Field while listening to Styx on the boom box. Waitressing at IHop and finding twenty dollar bills in my Jordache jeans. High school was eyeliner and lip gloss while watching the football games. It was being able to cook and clean and help my grandfather, because I was the woman of the house. It was driving my boxy blue Tercel hatchbox to Atlantic City and Jones beach. It was scratches on my face after my one and only fist fight with a girl three years older than me, all because she called my best friend "fat". It was sneaking liquor into a thermos to my teacher after a lunchtime house party. It was trying to fix up my friend with the funny, cute kid I sat next to, only to realize I was the one in love with him.
Thirty years from now, I wonder how my sons and their friends will sum up their high-school years? From my perspective, as a parent watching these kids in this artificial, pressure cooker world of college applications, I am already grieving all the lost, carefree days they should have had. I am angry that their schedules are jam-packed with honors and AP classes, and their afternoons are filled with hours of homework and test prep. I hate that they feel the pressure to volunteer and take on extracurricular activities, not because it interests them, but because of the very visceral perception that no college will accept them. Though my husband and I pride ourselves on not buying into the competitive college bullshit that has descended over our society like some unseen, nuclear fallout, there is just no escaping being on the never-ending, do more, do better, get higher grades and test scores treadmill at least enough to just stay alive.
Even after the colleges acceptances are in, when senioritis should be more contagious than mono, these kids are not allowed to finally breathe and go crazy, because if they do, the Willy Wonka admissions office may just rescind that golden ticket.
Selfishly, what really saddens me is that as parents we are robbed of fully enjoying our children in the few remaining years that they are with us. We're too busy getting them to the test preps and extracurricular activities and running them across town to finish the group projects. We are consumed with reminding them to write their college essays and complete their applications and study, study, study because you know that score is just not good enough. We are filled with worry as we watch them worry. It's as if we -- all of us in this process -- are in a haunted house together not quite sure where the evil spirits are, but understand that if we let our guard down for even one moment they will get us.
I don't know how to stop this craziness, I really don't. But what I do know in every fiber of my being is that something is oh so wrong when one day our kids will open up their high-school scrapbooks just to find they are filled with nothing but empty pages.