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The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

When my firstborn son was a toddler, I used to wonder if he would become a bouncer someday because he was big for his age — and fixated on doors. Opening them, closing them. Letting some in (the dog), keeping others out (the dad). He’d station himself in a doorway and take charge, wielding his power like Excalibur: You? Yes, by all means, enter. But not your friend. She waits out here with the others … until I say.

It was cute unless you were carrying groceries.

Now the tables have turned. He’s standing at the doorway of more than a dozen universities, waiting to see if he’ll be admitted. We’re staggering around in the three to four aimless months (110+ days!) between applying to colleges and hearing back from said colleges. The kid is handling it just fine — but for me, this limbo is anguish.

I check the mailbox three times a day, mistaking boring ole tax documents for promising acceptance packets. I hunt for buried treasure in my email spam folder. I’ve sat on university Application Status websites hitting refresh … refresh … refresh, hoping for news that wasn’t there three seconds ago — and still isn’t. I am a confused and slightly ashamed spectator to the grappling matches taking place in my head: What on earth was he thinking applying to such an elite school?! … How dare they judge this funny, compassionate child based on a handful of test scores and a disinterest in field sports! … If it were me? I’d have done Mock Trial. But whatever …

Look, the kid is careening toward high school graduation. This is happening, people. Why is no one else PANICKING APPROPRIATELY that we have no idea what comes next? It feels like we’re planning a wedding and hoping he’ll find a suitable bride before the big day arrives.

Somewhere in an ivory tower above a picturesque quad, at some point when they damn well feel like it, admissions folks will decide whether there are too many male applicants this year or too many from our hometown or too many other history-nerd, CrossFit-competing jazz drummers to deem my son a “good fit” for their campus. So forgive me, but as someone who interviewed multiple pediatricians before the child was even born and read every stinking opinion ever published on circumcision, the idea that his fate will now be chosen so randomly, and soooooooo fricking leisurely, borders on outrageous.

The “where” of college is huge; it can portend where he’ll live out the rest of his days. Our family keeps trying to keep things light: “This time next year, when your big brother’s gone … when he’s off at …” But we don’t know how the story ends. And as a storyteller, I don’t mind telling you I hate that.

Mostly, though, I don’t like how useless the waiting makes me feel. So suddenly, newly useless. It’s always been my job to help my son get what he wants, and now there’s literally nothing I can do but wait. And … well, refresh.

Sitting and waiting while relative strangers judge you — employers, lenders, even dates — is good practice for real life, I suppose. And I know the boy will hear “no,” “I’m sorry, but,” and “I’m afraid not” plenty in his life, just as I have in mine and you have in yours.

But for 17 years, we gave this kid the keys to any doors he wanted to open. And I gotta tell you: It hurts to know that life will slam some in his face and we won’t even be able to sneak him in through the back.

At least if the whole college thing doesn’t pan out, he can always find work as a bouncer.

Published inColumnsParenting
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