29: Mom’s Tour de Force

29: Mom’s Tour de Force

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Mom’s Tour de Force

A mother understands what a child does not say.

~Jewish Proverb

I’ve never been a fan of arranged marriages, not that I’ve found the right person on my own, but I certainly can’t imagine my parents being able to find that person. However, it dawned on me recently that I did something quite similar—I let my mother make one of the most important decisions of my life, one that lead to a marriage of sorts... I let her pick my college. How we got there is interesting, and how it all turned out proves that despite all the stress, work, and sometimes strife involved, the college admissions process does work out in the end.

A high school overachiever and the first child leaving the nest, my college decision process was more dramatic than a night at the opera... and on a few occasions we wondered if the fat lady ever would sing. It all started in my sophomore year of high school when my (equally overachieving) parents decided we should get a leg up on the admissions process. I remember leafing through the large college guide I was given one cold winter weekend and highlighting those schools which interested me. It should come as no surprise then that most of them fell below the Mason-Dixon Line, and I ultimately ended up in North Carolina. But to get there my mother and I embarked on a journey that took us from the mountains of Tennessee to the banks of Lake Michigan and proved just how blessed I was.

You see, decisiveness is not my gift. And my mother indulged what I now realize was an absolutely erratic college visitation spree spurred on by my inability to make a decision.

It began slowly with visits tacked onto family vacations. I toured Tulane when my father had business meetings in New Orleans and William and Mary over a holiday trip to Williamsburg. But as I edged closer to senior year, with nary an idea of where I would end up, there was an increased urgency.

Soon my mom was leading our team of two. She created a handwritten spreadsheet to record information and my feedback on all of the twelve schools to which I applied. Our dining room table became College Central, as mom rewrote my college applications in her neat and steady print, kept us on deadline, and charted a series of road trips. My path to college consumed both of us. Mom was my partner, someone just as vested as me, someone who understood the trepidation, the work, and exasperation involved in getting into college.

Mom tracked down a former admissions counselor to answer our questions; she scheduled campus interviews, tours, and our accommodations around her work and my school. And we were off! We visited so many schools: big schools, small schools, urban and rural schools, from the blue hens to the spiders, and many schools in between. Sometimes my father came with us, sometimes my best friend, or grandmother. But often we were on our own. And that’s the way I liked it best.

Despite my initial yearning for some place warm, the idea of attending Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, lodged itself in my head like a pesky sinus infection. I toured the school and interviewed with a college representative, and then I was promptly rejected. Unfortunately, I had so obsessed over Northwestern that nowhere else seemed suitable. I baked and devoured an entire apple pie out of self-pity and then announced that I was no longer interested in any other schools. Looking at me across the dining room table, it’s a miracle that mom didn’t throttle me with our heavy college guidebook; instead (thankfully) she did what she does best; she turned the situation positive, planned an impromptu trip and we were off... again!

In Nashville, we got our first taste of country music; in Virginia, we saw the northernmost palm tree; and in Delaware, my parents offered me a new car if I chose the state university. But yet, I was paralyzed: nervous and frightened, stubborn and unable to make a decision.

The last school we visited was Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We almost didn’t get there, as midway through the eight-hour drive, I announced in dramatic fashion that I still believed Northwestern was the only place for me. Mom pulled to the side of the road and said, “If you’re not going to give this place a chance, I am going to turn around right now instead of wasting our time.” She wasn’t messing around. And she was right. I shut up, and we continued.

Arriving in Winston-Salem, we drove up a tree-lined hill that opened on a vast expanse of green. “It’s beautiful,” my mother said. But I scowled, reluctant to make a fast judgment, or even worse, be pushed to like it. After the campus tour, mom was obviously excited, “So what do you think?” she asked. I mumbled something about the sports arena being too far from campus, an amusing complaint from a girl who had no interest in sports. I was still stuck and my mom could see it.

The deposit would be due soon, and my parents had already spent untold amounts of time and money trying to help me. It was time to draw a line in the campus dirt. My mother made it clear that they would not be paying two deposits.

“Aimee,” she said, “Wake has a great reputation; it’s small, but not too small. Look around you—it’s beautiful, the people are kind and it feels like a family. What’s not to like?” I didn’t answer. She continued, “I think I am going to go buy a sticker for our car, what do you say?” I agreed, not feeling compelled to argue about a sticker, able to accept it mentally by telling myself, “it’s just a sticker after all.” But we both knew it was more.

That night on the phone in our hotel room, I heard my mom tell my dad, as if in code, “Well, we bought a sticker for the car, Dan.” And I think they both breathed a sigh of relief. The sticker was the type of commitment that I could handle. My mother knew me and it seems she knew her psychology as well. The sticker turned into the deposit, and the deposit turned into enrollment. And at the end of my freshman year, my mother and I again looked over that vast green expanse of campus together.

This time things were different. This time it was my home. We were swinging on swings that had been installed as a student art project. They were engraved with words like “dream” and “trust” and “hope” and “love” and I was crying because I did indeed love this place. That I had fallen in love so quickly and completely, after so much hesitancy and doubt, made it all the sweeter and leaving it, even just for the summer, was one of the hardest things I had to do. My mother knew this. That was why we were on the swings. Just as I had to take baby steps to get to this place, I too had to take baby steps to leave it. So we swung for a while, and then Mom said, “Aimee... time to go.” And though I didn’t want to, I felt compelled to trust her. And as we walked up the hill to our car, where a streetlight illuminated the sticker that started it all, I knew why.

~Aimee Cirucci

 

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