There is no way to be a perfect parent, but there are a lot of ways to be a good one.
Steve Martin, Cheaper By the Dozen
I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t say to my kids, “Look, I’ve never done this before. I’m doin’ the best that I can.”
This referring to parenting.
Every day brings a new set of circumstances, new developmental challenges, new friends, changes in society, and in technology. On more than a few of our parenting decisions, we’ve wanted to yell “Do over!” But, we hope that if we make enough good decisions, they’ll add up over time to create a whole grown-up person who is responsible and compassionate and contributes to the world in a positive, meaningful way and requires minimal therapy as an adult.
My daughter is nearing the end of her junior year in high school. She has worked hard in school and because of that, she has set herself up nicely to explore quite a few college options. And so, we are in the throes of the college application process. While I have been through my own college application process, the process now is quite a bit more involved.
Now there are buzz phrases such as:
college admissions coach, comprehensive standardized test preparation tutoring, elite educational solutions, college visits, spring break college tour, essay prep tutoring, and so on and so forth.
All of which make my head spin and cost a small fortune.
We hemmed and hawed wondering if our daughter really needed any of it. And since she’s our first child, we tried our best to find that balance between being influenced by the hyper parent chatter and what would really be beneficial to our own child. Because she is fairly uncertain about many aspects of college, we settled on the spring break college tour. (Well, actually, I settled on it. The Rooster just went along with it…reluctantly.)
Before any trip, I think it’s only natural to have ideas of what it’s going to be like: “Oh, we’ll take our girl on a variety of college tours so she’ll be enlightened as to the exciting choices in her near future. We’ll fit in some fun outings for all of the boys, and some nice restaurants for me. We’ll feel like locals in our Airbnb West Hollywood home. We’ll walk to coffee in the mornings. A little sun. A little hiking. A day at the beach. The Hollywood Walk of Fame. Smiles everyone.”
And the first few days go rather smoothly. Our West Hollywood bungalow was darling as was the Australian owner with his extensive Architectural Digest magazine collection left out for his guests to peruse. The first few colleges were met with a palpable enthusiasm despite fighting LA traffic from one side to the other. Our first evening, we had the most incredible dinner at the clandestine Laurel Hardware on Santa Monica Boulevard. We sat outside in their private back courtyard under trees with twinkling lights. The rave reviews about the Popsicle Sprouts were right on and our darling – trying to make a living as a musician – waiter kept bringing me glasses of wine to sample. Hopping into bed that night, I thought, “Yippee! This trip is going to be fantastic!!”
But by about day three, my merry band of travelers started to unravel.
The sound bites from our band sounded like…
Why is your head so big? Bigger head bigger brain. You’re so annoying. You whine about everything. Look at this pool my friends are laying by. Look how sunny it is there. You don’t want to do anything. You’re such a buzz kill. I just wanted to go skiing. I just wanted to lie in the sun. I just wanted to be at home. I’m not even going to college for 9 years. I miss Benny. We’re doing this for you.
About six days into the trip, I noticed the Rooster had left the premises and was sending me text messages that read, “What the $%&# are we doing here? Should I change our tickets so we can fly home today?”
I somehow managed to keep our little herd moving north and going through the motions of finishing the “college tour” trip. I did say to my 14-year-old at one point, “I hope you’re taking it in because you’re not that far behind and this is a one time deal.”
After eight days of togetherness, our travel-weary crew managed to stumble onto our 6 a.m. flight home. By 10 a.m., all of us were home and sound asleep in our own beds. In our own rooms.
Yes, I was a bit disappointed with how things went on our trip. For a few days, the “woulda coulda shouldas” went round and round in my mind. “We never should have done that trip. I should have made her be more accountable for the visits. I can’t believe we spent all that money. We should have just gone to the Oregon coast. I need a vacation from the vacation. These kids are getting jobs this summer.” But it’s interesting how things start to play out after some time starts to pass.
On the last day of our trip, we gave our daughter the pool time she had been craving which seemed to appease the sun-seeking teenage girl that she is. Since we’ve been home, I’ve heard her discussing with friends the different colleges she visited and what she thought about them. She did say to me, “I really feel like now I know what kind of colleges I want to apply to.” That was the extent of it, but I suppose it’s enough of a push to let go and let her take charge of the reigns of her future.
The 14-year-old came home after the first day back at school and said, “Hey, Mom, guess what? I actually put some effort into my classes today. I even did my math homework in class instead of goofing around with so and so and so and so.” It may be a one-time thing, but at least he now knows the payoff for working hard in school.
When asked about the trip, my youngest simply stated, “I’m going to Stanford.” So, I guess he has that goal out in front of him for the next 9 years.
I myself can’t wait to rent another home through Airbnb. I find that when you leave your own home to stay in someone else’s home, you connect with your destination in ways that isn’t possible in a hotel. Meeting the owner of your home away from home, gives it a face and a personality. You feel a responsibility to his home…like it’s your own.
And because of that, something magical happens.
You and your traveling band feel an emotional connection to that little part of the world. And somehow the world feels a little closer and a little less scary.
As for the Rooster, he is just sure he has an ulcer forming after having spent a week cooped up with the Bickerson Brothers. Ah well, there isn’t always a take-away for everyone.
Things don’t always work out the way we had envisioned. Your kids don’t always show as much gratitude as you expected. But the hope is that every time you put yourself, or your children, into a new situation, whether the experience is ideal or not, you all come away with a little bit of wisdom that you didn’t have before.
Or, you at least have the intelligence to assess your decisions so you don’t repeat the bad ones.
“Well, that was a train wreck. We won’t be doing that again.”
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