Nine Months of Hard Labor

Text by Nancy Woodward Berk ’81, Illustrations by Jesse Lenz

Time Flies when you’re a parent. One minute the minivan is stocked with juice boxes and action figures, and the next it’s loaded with duffle bags and dorm decorations. Once upon a time, I thought I had the whole parenting thing figured out. Then my older son applied to college, and I learned there is another process as challenging as childbirth. It’s not a coincidence that a teen’s senior year is about nine months long. Obsessing over prepping, searching, applying, and waiting, parents who survived three trimesters way back when sit at another nail-biting crossroads, with even less control.

The college expectancy period involves at least three trymesters. The operative word is try. Try (trı) v.: to make an attempt or effort to do something. Ex.: I will try to stay sane during my child’s senior year.

The problem is, there’s no Lamaze class for the bumpy college-bound journey. And parents deserve more than a sugarcoated handbook for what to expect when their kids hit the college circuit. So after two tours of duty, I decided it was time to write one.

Please note: College-bound trymesters can differ, depending upon whether your child applies early decision, early action, or regular decision, but the course is still the same—trauma, drama, nagging, and success. Ironically, you’re required to keep your senior on track at exactly the same time that those “What did I walk into this room for?” senior moments start hitting you. Like childbirth, however, the pain is fleeting and, in the end, well worth it. Your baby’s going to college.

First Trymester Features:

It’s normal to be nervous, nauseated, and confused during the first trymester of your child’s college search. Expect the symptoms to be worse if it’s your first child. The process bears no resemblance to your beanbag chair college days, and you’re clueless. Life is one big question mark with tons of abbreviations. Acronyms haven’t been this unsettling since the unsolicited AARP application landed in your mailbox before its time. AP. ACT. SAT. GPA. ED. EA. Each one seems more important than the next. By the time you figure out what a FAFSA is, you need an EKG and a security guard for your IRA.

The only thing worse than worrying about your teen taking standardized tests is the thought of having to take them yourself. It’s true; I’d take a bullet for my kid but not the SAT. To combat this overwhelming anxiety, you will likely resort to one of three strategies:

1: Shopping You can’t pass a Barnes & Noble without purchasing several phone book-sized practice tests for your teen. Amazon’s emails begin to suggest you might also be interested in the LSAT, GMAT, and some Rosetta Stone software. You have enough CDs, DVDs, flashcards, and course materials to open your own Princeton Review satellite office. Chances are good that by the time this shopping spree is over, you will have carpal tunnel syndrome.

2: Drilling You believe that with a little disciplined study, your child will shine. The stopwatch is dusted off and the prep course checks are in the mail. You lock up the car keys and lock down your teen until work sheets, study guides, and online practice tests are complete. You’ve been known to hover to ensure that practice happens.

3: Creating Your teen’s prep experience is tailor-made, thanks to your handmade flashcards and ability to think outside the box. When your SAT Scrabble game doesn’t fly, you move on to Plan B. Decorating cupcakes with math problems and recording a rap CD with vocab words, you’ve even patented a special lock for the Xbox that can be deactivated only by choosing the correct answers to complex algebra problems. You’re like Martha Stewart and Bill Gates rolled up into one perky test-prep parent.

4: Opt Out Some schools, like Denison, are test optional. So if your son or daughter doesn’t want to submit their score on the ACT or SAT, they don’t have to.

Your mailbox and child’s inbox are flooded with information. Your home now houses more catalogues and brochures than Pottery Barn’s mailroom. The dining room table is so far gone, you’ve booked a reservation for Thanksgiving dinner. Since a picture paints a thousand words, you start to believe that most college classes are held outdoors and have a 1:4 professor:student ratio. Unsure if it’s the beautiful pamphlets or your child’s testy attitude, you begin to consider sending him off to faraway lands.

There’s good news this trymester—you’re allowed to travel! The college road trip is the golden opportunity for family bonding and bickering. But you can’t take it until the applicant decides where she wants to go. And these days she’s making commitments about as fast as George Clooney. The only thing more frustrating is her counterpart who lands on campus but refuses to get out of the car because he doesn’t like “the look.” In times like these, it helps to take a Sharpie to the old car decal. BIG Baby is definitely on board.

It’s normal for teens to procrastinate and uncomfortable for parents to watch as college deadlines approach. You sound like a broken record and feel like a personal assistant trying to keep him on schedule. He points out that you were always the last parent to hand in the permission slip. Darn, apparently it’s genetic and, like everything else in that crazy teen world, your fault.

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