Make it to the Finish Line!
By Jeannette Webb
I grew up in a gentler time. After trundling us kids off to school, our mothers settled in for bridge club or art lessons or coffee with the girls. My mother’s nails were always polished and I have few memories when she wasn’t in a dress. Evenings after school and long summer days were spent roaming the neighborhood with our friends. This way we were safely out from underfoot of our mother’s projects.
I’m not sure what happened, but 26 years later, when I became a mother, the landscape had definitely changed! Forget the nail polish. I had to be out the door by 7:00 a.m. to get the baby to the sitter and be in my office by 8:00. The challenges of juggling motherhood and career were intense.
Naively, I thought it would get better when I walked away from the dual-career lifestyle to home educate my children. Instead I found myself working late at night on lesson plans. I spent days teaching my children, setting up learning situations, correcting character flaws, helping them develop important skill sets. Since I no longer had a paycheck coming in, I had no household help and no extra cash to buy convenience of any kind. So cleaning and food prep and sewing and gardening were added to the list. When we got to the high school years I was training in high-level leadership, rigorous academics, and our days moved faster still.
Today’s parents are the hardest working people I know. We slog hours on end to make sure we’ve covered all the bases for our children. We sacrifice time, money, and personal goals to make sure they have every opportunity. We leave no stone unturned. Except one.
I see it all the time. After investing years of energy in raising their children, after spending tons of money on great classes and awesome programs and music lessons and dental work, after carefully planning every facet of their child’s life, parents stop just short of the finish line.
Admittedly, by this point we are tired. Twelve years of total responsibility can wear a person down. Thinking about our child leaving home can fill us with a sense of despair that makes it hard to focus. We are so busy with our lives that it is hard to slow down enough to even think.
Athletes call this phenomenon “hitting the wall.” I remember it well. After putting in miles on the cross-country track, the sun blasted my worn out body. My legs were jelly and threatened to quit at any minute. A salty taste would rise in my throat promising a major upheaval of everything inside. My mind was a sick blur by the time I hit Agony Hill – the long rugged incline that finished the course. I never thought I would make it to the top. My body screamed defeat. My mind was wasted. I just wanted to lie down and die on the spot. It would have been so much easier.
But, you know what? I made it to the top, week after week after week. By only focusing on one step at a time, by mentally picturing a rope that I was grabbing hand-over-hand, I conquered that hill every time. But it was only possible because I had a mental plan in place before my body started rebelling.
So what does that have to do with our kids growing up and going to college? More than you might guess. Many parents collapse in a heap at the bottom of Agony Hill. They’ve gathered their child’s immaculate credentials, they’ve compiled a few lists of books and classes, and they quickly throw them all at a college application with little thought and no planning. In their worn-out brain fog, they think that somehow colleges will just know how special their child is, that admissions officers have some magical ability and unlimited time to read between the lines to get to the essence of their student.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you don’t cross the finish line, you don’t get the trophy. If you fail to put together an excellent college application, you can forget about getting in to competitive colleges or having a chance at scholarships.
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“The weekly reminder (in your blog post) is so important as you gently nudge the parents to keep on task toward the big picture. Your comments are like a breath of fresh air to run the good race, to look out of the trenches for just a moment and remember why we are here.” ~ Kathy