-- Max Ehrmann (Desiderata)
I'm starting this post by saying I'm very fragile right now. I've actually never felt like this as a parent. I'm filled with so much nostalgia, love and surreal feeling that I can barely go through my ordinary tasks. The long and arduous journey of selecting a college for Jack is winding down. We're close, super close. There's a lot of grace wrapped up in this epic tale which is why it gets a shout out here.
When Jack was born 18 years ago our hearts were overflowing with joy, love and take-your-breath-away wonder. How could such a miraculous, beautiful soul be a part of us? How did we get so lucky to share the joys of life and beauty with such a sweet, sweet soul? Jack is gentle, kind, smart, compassionate, funny and curious. He's cautious and non-confrontational and extremely cool-headed in a crisis. He is warm and optimistic. He's pretty incredible and I know that I'm partial to his good points because I'm his mom but I also know that doesn't diminish his incredible-ness. I take no credit for his ways...he clearly came straight through me. He has always been his own person and been able to listen to his heart above the noise of the outside world's cacophony. That's just him.
Finding a college for Jack has been both a fabulous adventure and a heart-breaking journey. Jack's always been one of those kids who loved school. It came easily to him and he loved learning. He sailed smoothly through elementary school and junior high and really loved high school. Finding a college seemed like a no-brainer. When he was a sophomore, Caroline, Jack and I went on a road trip to see 9 colleges in 5 days. We saw tiny colleges, giant universities, ones on the coast and ones in the city. We saw Catholic universities and public ones and of course we saw the big names of UCLA and USC. Jack fell in love with UCLA (who wouldn't?) and came home excited to work hard and make his way. His high school counselor flat out told him that he wasn't going to be getting into any UC. Here he was second semester of his sophomore year and it was already out of reach. We were stunned. How? His grades weren't perfect but they were strong. He hadn't taken the SAT yet, how could this counselor look him in the eye and crush a dream? College admittance was treacherous territory.
Turns out that Jack's GPA needed boosting, clearly, but it also turns out that when Jack wants something he goes for it. He became a very focused student. He took weighted courses to boost his GPA and he studied like crazy for the SAT. He also happened to be applying during the very worst year ever.
Junior year, we made road trip #2. This time we took along Mary Kate and visited a few of the old favorites but a whole host of others as well. I repeated my same speech as the first time: "College is like choosing a favorite flavor of ice-cream. Every one is delicious and wonderful in its own way; but it is what tastes good to you that matters." We attended a volleyball game at USC's Galen Center. We watched the band circle the players after the win. I called John from the gift shop and told him that I'd buy him a T-shirt if he wanted one -- the vortex of Trojan sports had sucked me in! We left USC and made our way to other places along the way. Jack came home and made a computer collage of CAL, UCLA and USC -- his three favorites -- and placed it above his desk.
This year he crushed the SAT. He got the best grades of his life and wrote essay after essay hoping to get a shot at one of these schools. He knew he was throwing up a Hail Mary pass and pragmatically he started making more realistic choices. He found a few schools where he would safely get in, zeroed in on the famously called "target" schools and kept his eye on the "reach/dream" schools.
Everything today is digital in the application process. You send in your application online, you ask questions online, and you are notified about your acceptance online. This unnerved me. I was constantly worried that nobody received anything; but Jack, who grew up using computers just as often (if not more) than a telephone went with it in his typical easy-going manner. USC offered an optional interview and Jack jumped at it. Of course, with true Murphy's Law predictability the traffic into Sacramento that day was unbelievable and my normally casual son called me with a shaky voice. We spoke back and forth for what seemed like ages trying to keep things light and relaxed and knowing the entire time that a dream was being held in limbo. He made it -- enjoyed it and came home enthused. After months and months of thinking about it and preparing for it, Jack clicked "send" on all of his applications. Now there was nothing to do but wait.
This period of time was true torture. We discussed the potential results almost every day. We tried to predict outcomes, plan contingencies, rationalize away weaknesses in Jack's particular app and visualize the future. In one word: impossible. Those smart few who applied early found out their news and started making plans. Christmas came and went. We welcomed in the New Year, 2011, with knowing eyes...where would Jack be? It was anybody's guess. Around February it really felt like nobody had received his application. The mail was empty, the email nonexistent and a big fat silence settled in around our house...tension started to build. We knew March might start giving results but we didn't know when. Suddenly, out of nowhere University of Oregon admitted Jack! Life was good -- Jack had a spot somewhere. :)
Slowly, other schools started trickling in but the big three were set for mid to late March. In true Foraker fashion, Jack got his first rejection about a half hour before his younger sister's Confirmation. Extended family was there, waiting on pins and needles, for the website to "go live" so that Jack could check UCLA's information. Not hearing any screams of joy, I knew. Seeing him walk downstairs and imperceptibly shake his head ever so slightly "no" brought tears to my eyes and the knowledge that I couldn't let them show. Hugs all around. All sorts of rationalizations and excuses about why this couldn't be true for the other favorites came out quickly, too quickly. The unspoken pain was that we all knew it could easily be the case for the others. I watched my sweet son congratulate friends on Facebook and be genuine about it. His heart is big and he was able to recognize someone's else's dream coming true. The truth is that he handled that rejection a whole lot better than I would have.
And then THE day arrived. March 24th was going to be the day that CAL released its admits. We also had heard a rumor that USC was going to be mailing out their acceptances that same week, unusual in this electronic world. In a weird twist of circumstance, both Jack and Mary Kate were home after school. A colossal rainstorm had delayed Jack's volleyball game and Mary Kate's lacrosse game. They were both at home when the mail came at about 4 pm. John (also randomly home) and ever the casual stealth dad, intercepted the mail and found a "big envelope". He saw the return address and called for Jack. Since I wasn't there to witness the opening, all I can tell you is what greeted me at 4:13 pm -- Mary Kate waving to me from the window as I pulled into the driveway. I walked in saying my prayer that I had said for so many months, "Please Lord, let it unfold the right way." Both Jack and Mary Kate were jumping up and down and I could tell it was something good. Jack had been admitted to USC but as a spring admit. (What?) Watching his sheer joy, relief and thrill made me get caught up in it too...the USC vortex had reappeared.
Ten minutes later, John, Mary Kate and I were standing behind Jack at his computer upstairs with fingers crossed. We heard the audible sadness at being rejected through a sigh and we knew without having to see the eyes or face filled with that sense of "not being good enough". For both John and I, we were thrown off. Jack's dream had (sort of) come true but he had been denied at CAL, the college that seemed to fit him best. However, watching him shed his disappointment like a skin in a matter of minutes and seeing his ability to find his way in this crazy maze of college acceptances with a clear head made us stop and just drink it in.
We don't know any final answers yet but we do know that he's got some good options and one big favorite. We'll be practical and visit the top three and make lists of the goods and the bads about each. We'll find our way to deal with what happens if a spring admittance is really the right choice and we'll take comfort in the fact that the universe is unfolding just the right way. I have a feeling that I won't be saying good-bye to Jesuit's red and gold for good but it's just a guess. Where he ends up seems like a crazy ride with a little smattering of grace: an interview that happened in spite of terrible traffic, an admission office that believes in the old fashioned idea of snail mail, a rainy day that allowed for a treasure to be given moments before a bitter rejection and a little sister who searched out an old favorite stuffed animal to sleep with the night before the mail came. Yep, that stuffed animal was "Bavo" the teal green elephant that was purchased in the USC bookstore on that fateful first roadtrip. It's a long and winding road but we're almost there. With Bavo by our side, it has to be good.