46: The Right, On Time Essay

46: The Right, On Time Essay

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

The Right, On Time Essay

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

~Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

“You can write the essays later,” I said to my son, “Let’s just keep going here.” Josh, a restless high school senior, and I, his helpful fifty year old mother, were both being held hostage at the kitchen table, as we forged our way through the pile of his college applications. Every few minutes the digital ring tones of a Led Zeppelin song rang from his cell phone, and he’d have to inform the friend, “I’ll catch you later, dude.” Sitting with me to help answer the questions was holding him up from his abundant social obligations. I was just thrilled (besides weary and bleary eyed) that we were making progress on the college applications.

It had been obvious from the start that Josh was not as concerned as I about deadlines. The kid was hardly ever home anymore. When he was home, this is how our talks usually went:

Mom: Have you e-mailed any of the coaches on the list yet like the guidance counselor suggested?

Son: No

Mom: Have you gone to websites of the colleges on your list yet?

Son: No

Mom: Did you get the applications yet from the guidance counselor?

Son: Yes. I have them.

Mom: Oh, good. Where are they?

Son: At school. In my locker.

After the applications were home and filled out, a few weeks went by without the required essays. I grew anxious.

I decided to step in and help. Some of my attempts thus far to ‘“help” Josh had not been well received. “I wish you hadn’t done that, Mom.” Josh inhaled sharply when he discovered that I had e-mailed the college football coaches on his list to assure they knew about the awards and honors Josh received. I had even attached a short video clip of him making a touchdown. “My guidance counselor and I are putting together a letter and DVD to mail to all the coaches.” Oh. I gulped, sheepishly. “Well... geez, I’m your mom... I’m like your agent.”

Josh didn’t seem to find my charming banter during the guided tours of the colleges helpful either. “Mom, you can just drop me off at the college,” he suggested as we were driving to visit the last college on our list, “Then you can like go to the mall and go shopping or something and then come pick me up.”

When the deadlines for the applications were making me frantic I looked over the parts asking for essays. They asked, “Describe your career goals,” and “What skills and experience do you currently possess.”

Easy, right? I mean, what parent couldn’t list the skills and strengths of his or her child? And what mother doesn’t love to share what she knows would be the best career path for her son or daughter to take? I typed up some ideas.

The next day, I blocked Josh’s exit from the house with a maneuver worthy of our school’s star lineman and handed him my work. “Here,” I pleaded, “Look these over.”

After a few weeks went by and still no essay materialized, I went a step further. I composed three slapdash essays. Yes, I had some twinges of guilt about writing them, but, I reasoned, they were only rough drafts. Josh could pick one and tweak it.

“This is just an example of what, maybe, you could write for your essay.” I explained as I dropped my masterpieces on his bed where he had been reading. Before turning to leave him in peace I added, “They’re just, you know, some ideas, you could use, if you want. You know, just to give you... some ideas.”

“Thanks, Mom,” he said with as much enthusiasm as if I handed him a stick of gum or something.

And that was the last I ever saw of my wonderful essays.

A few days later, Josh handed me some papers, “Can you proofread this for me Mom? It’s my college essay.”

“Sure,” I replied, watching my athletic son turn and walk away.

Curious as to which of my essays he picked, I read it immediately.

“I can still remember everything about that day—the field, the grass, the weather, even where I was lined up in the pre-game stretches...” he began. This essay wasn’t one of mine at all, but a fully original one that Josh had written, all by himself. In it he shared what he had learned about himself by overcoming a terrible football injury.

As I read his words I saw how it was so him, his voice, his thoughts, his experience. And I recognized with a kind of wonder that it was... good. (Only a football player, though, would take two pages describing a game, play by play, in a college essay. I had to smile.)

“This is really good, Josh,” I said.

“Thanks.” A shy smile spread across his face, causing, as it always did, his left eye to close slightly.

“But I don’t think the admissions people need to read a play by play of the game,” I offered gently. (Josh did cut some of the game from the essay.)

I read his essay over again later, and a few times again after that. I cried a bit, partly because of revisiting the pain he had gone through with his injury, but also for this insight into my son. His heart and his life spilled out of every sentence.

His essay was way superior to anything I could have written for him, because it was him.

And I realized this was what his senior year and getting ready for college was about: me letting go, and my son taking the reins, and both of us knowing he could.

~Donna Paulson

More stories from our partners