Sharon Brody: As midnight deadlines loom and overachieving neighbor children skew your perspective, remember: All that must get done, will get done -- with time to spare. (Martha Irvine/AP)

Remember when your children were very small? And so were the neighbor’s kids?

And the neighbor’s baby rolled over at 3 months? And was speaking in full sentences – what was it, the next month? And by the age of 3 happily dined on Oysters Rockefeller, and also used her napkin? And skipped training wheels? And was elected captain of the kindergarten soccer team while still, technically, a pre-schooler?

What I’m saying here is, surely by now you are used to this.

Of course Neighbor Child has finished her college applications.

And, of course, your child has not.

This is the way of the world. There is always a Neighbor Child.

If someone in your family plans to start college next year, then at this very moment you are swimming in a sea of nothing but Neighbor Children. Maybe mostly the ones who’ve spent summers rebuilding hospitals in Africa.

Never you mind.

Climb out of that sea of unproductive comparisons, and don’t look back. Look, instead, into the eyes of your own high school senior, who needs you. You can tell he needs you by the way he rolls his eyes every time you gently inquire about where things stand on the college app timeline. Especially when an artist’s rendering of your gentle inquiry would be a ringer for Munch’s “The Scream.”

This is natural. You are aware of the dwindling number of days left before he needs to click “submit.” He, conversely, seems aware of … not much. But, almost always, his passivity is an act. You’ve heard of playing possum? This is his relatively sane reaction to the ludicrous frenzy of college application season in the privileged communities across America.

Hard to believe as it might be when midnight deadlines loom and Neighbor Children skew your perspective, but all that must get done will get done – with time to spare. Seconds being a unit of time, mind you.

Your high school senior is going to finish that essay. He is going to revise that finished essay. He is going to delete that finished revised essay and start from scratch with an essay based on a history paper he wrote last week that made that one girl in class laugh.

It will be OK.

It’s possible you’ll doubt the efficacy of his tactics. You might, with furrowed brow, and calendar in hand, approach the prospective college freshman in his lair. He will give you that look. He will say, “Chill.” He will say, “I got this.” He will say, “I KNOW WHAT DAY IT IS.”

And he does.

He will fidget and groan, but he will muddle through the circle of hell that requires him to describe the influence a fictional or historical figure had on his life.

He will shrug and procrastinate, but he will eventually devise short answers to the prompts that pass for “fun” and “quirky” on the distant airless planet of admissions officers:

“What’s your latest discovery?”

“Explain the best thing about last Tuesday!”

“Name your favorite amusement park ride; how does this reflect your approach to life?”

He will stare at the part of the application seeking information about his Awards and Honors, and he will come to make peace with the large, empty, white space on the screen. A beautiful island of white, if you think about it. Let the Neighbor Child sully that with verbiage.

As the clock ticks toward too-late-to-apply, he will take forever to finally fill in the basics on the boilerplate sections you’d advised him to get out of the way in August.

You won’t say I told you so, but he might not notice.

These interludes of cajoling and reminding and red-penciling can get a bit chippy. But when isn’t life with teenagers?

And just when you least expect it, your own regrets might careen around the corner of the Common App. If, that is, you’re anything like me.

As the mom of a high school senior, I would get caught up in deadline fever – pressing the kid to pick up the pace, urging him to work a little harder, pushing him to polish that punch line to perfection – and then suddenly I’d want to slam on the brakes as I accelerated into sorrow.

I felt like an accomplice to a crime. The relentless facilitator of my own bad dream. That’s overwrought, of course, and melodramatic. In other words, that’s me.

But as I sat with my son and forced a smile and maintained the urgency – “You can do it! Just one last extracurricular bragfest and one last click and you’re officially a college applicant!” – my heart clenched. I am shoving my baby into the path of the future that will whisk him away from me. We are moving way too fast in the wrong direction. I’m not ready for this. He can’t possibly be ready for this. The wail of George Jetson pounded in my brain: “JANE, STOP THIS CRAZY THING!”

Deep breaths. The Jetsons are a cartoon. This isn’t crazy, it’s life. Life is change and change is a gift and gifts are good. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be; that’s more or less been my job since he’s been born. My son is just as ready, whether he knows it or not; that’s his job from here on out.

So, here you are, where I was. Good luck from a veteran to the whole new crop of college applicants and parents. Good luck to the frazzled, the skittish, the sad. The perpetrators of misplaced modifiers and the proofreaders who save them. The determined, the proud, the minute-til-midnight daredevils.

And yes, you too, Neighbor Child. Good luck, whether you need it or not.

Although, er, as aforementioned, we are all mostly trying to, um, ignore you. No hard feelings. You understand.

Tags: Family

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  • anonymous

    Thanks for the reassuring words!

  • Bruce Gellerman

    What a terrific article. Sharon must have been following my family around the house. It’s comforting to know we are not alone.
    Times have certainly changed. My parents didn’t ask if I had even applied to colleges and first learned I had when I was accepted!
    Gotta run and make sure our son has signed up for the SAT.

  • Frank

    “He will stare at the part of the application seeking information about his Awards and Honors, and he will come to make peace with the large, empty, white space on the screen.” Two thoughts: 1. CLASSIC! 2.This theme repeats throughout life for many of us mortals…

  • mgreenblatt

    Sooo true!! I just cancelled my weekend plans so I can literally sit next to him and make him finish the common app

  • babyface

    Spot on… An entire year’s-worth of family dinners ruined by daring to ask “how the apps coming along?”… and our student was high-achieving with awards up the wazoo… In hindsight we wished we had funneled helpful advice and suggestions through a trusted adult, rather than assume that our kid would eventually realize that we weren’t trying to hijack the process…

  • mumtothree

    Super! We have one college graduate and one college junior, and I bit my tongue so often that I have scars. This article, however, would have been way too soon for our family! Isn’t the deadline December 31? What finally got #1 in gear was these simple words from her father: “It’s okay to take a gap year, but you will be getting a job if you want to live here.”

  • Doug Tidwell

    Great article. Everybody in or past this awful phase spent the whole article nodding their heads.

  • AnnieJ

    The Neighbor Child is not my issue. I could care less about where others are in the process. I know my son will finish the apps in time. But the fight to get housing is brutal at his first and second choice; and over two months have passed since he could get on the list for housing … but you have to apply first. I am ambivalent about him leaving to go to school more than 2,000 miles away; but his maybe having to live with nine guys in a broom closet below the water line while he’s wait-listed is scary to contemplate. He’s not concerned, so I try to maintain an even strain.

  • suesieq

    and here we are again in the junior or senior year of college, omg, we are repeating exactly the same thing!! well, maybe kids are a little bit more matured than 4 years ago and rolling their eyes maturely now!!

  • Alex

    Yeah, there’s the college app process… and the desire to have a reasoned influence on the selection of where to apply. And to remind my college-bound senior that if you aspire to be a school teacher, you might want to consider not only what degree you graduate with, but your student loan balance as well. And what the hell is wrong with one of our fine state schools with subsidized tuition, anyway?

    And it’s not just the Neighbor kid who is done with his apps. It Bobby who got a free ride from Harvard. And Sally who is deciding between full scholarships offered by 3 universities. And then–the worst–Phillip who was offered a full scholarship at a damn fine university but who turned it DOWN, to pay his own way at … wait, where? THERE? WHERE the HELL is THAT?

    • Robin

      I missed this the first time around, Sharon! Why? I was DEEP in the midst of the process of which you so beautifully wrote. And while exasperatingly asking my son in my fake sing songy voice “how’s it going?” I can get equally sad about “what am I CRAZY? – this is all happening too fast. Thanks for the permission to be very happy and sad together in a jumbled parental mess.

  • Carolyn

    You nailed this, Sharon. As always, great writing…with a delightful serving of comic relief!

  • katie

    TOOOOO FUNNY! and I don’t even have any kids!! Feels like Sharon is right across the table relaying this wisdom

  • Mimi Roughton

    I thoroughly reading this–smiled all the way through it! But feeling a little guilty now–maybe I should’ve helped my daughter with her college app essays…..

  • collegeboundnews

    This piece is great and made us smile. We’ve made it our “must read” Admissions Story of the Day.

  • Julie Shields-Rutyna

    Hi Sharon,
    I work at MEFA and spoke with you a couple of years ago when you interviewed me about FAFSA Day! I loved this article and have shared it with the many parents I’ve been helping through the admissions and financial aid process this year! Thanks so much!

    • Sharon Brody

      Hey, Julie! Thank you so much! You do amazing work, and I’m honored you’ve shared the essay. Good luck on the admissions and finaid front to all the families lucky enough to get help from you!