Why is Applying for College so Painful?

I’m drowning in college applications, college essays, SAT and ACT scores, and a completely drained checkbook. GOING to college is supposed to drain the financial life from a family, but applying to college?

I realize that part of my challenge this year is that I have TWO high school seniors applying to colleges. That means that the costs, the time, the headaches, the campus visits are all doubled. I can’t begin to describe how burnt out on writing essays I am and I haven’t personally written any! I’ve just proofread, edited, and helped trim-to-fit-the-length-restrictions on so.many.essays, I feel like I COULD write them in my sleep.

Every school has its own deadline. Some have early application; some have early decision. Some early decision applications are binding and some are not. Some schools have deadlines for applications and then EARLIER deadlines for scholarship consideration. Some schools will flex on the deadlines and some are absolutely rigid.

Some schools collaborate to restrict students to ONE early-decision application. Some schools don’t care. Some schools take the Common App and consider it done. Some require the Common App PLUS several more school-specific essays. Some have their own proprietary application.

Some applications can be completed in 20 minutes. Some take 20 hours. Some schools require paper transcripts, to be mailed through the USPS. Some require electronically mailed transcripts.

Being a home educator complicates things for me. EVERY school requires something different from me. One school asked me to list every single text used for every high school class on the transcript. (“Son, please take School X off of your list!”) Some schools ask for letters of reference; some do not. Some schools allow me to function as the high school guidance counselor; some require that I find someone else to provide the information that a guidance counselor would normally provide.

Keeping track of who is who and who needs what requires a spreadsheet! Writing the checks for the application fees for each school just about requires a second mortgage!

Yesterday, Baby A and I were busy wrapping up his application at one of his top college choices. He read some fine print for the first time and realized that in order to meet the deadline for Application-with-consideration-for-scholarship-eligibility, we needed to have a notarized paper copy of his transcript in their office by 5 PM yesterday. Impossible.

Baby A got on the phone to the admissions office and asked if there was any flexibility. He is, after all, very interested in their school. Nope. No flexibility at all. The admissions lady told him primly that they take great pride in the fact that they make no exceptions for their deadlines. Ever.

He hung up the phone and said, “Well, I can still apply for admission but I won’t be eligible for any scholarships. At all. No exception.”

Well, that’s their call. They missed out on a good student in my Baby A.

I was just relieved to cross that school off the list altogether. It doesn’t seem like it should BE this hard!

on Choosing Well

Janette died last week. I learned this on Facebook.

Janette has always been someone who has challenged me to think about choices. Mostly it’s been Janette’s CHOICES that have challenged me.

Janette and I were in high school marching band together, in the woodwinds section. We weren’t close friends, but we were friendly and hung around together in the band section during football games. When she found me on FB, I didn’t think twice about accepting her friend request. We exchanged a few catch-up messages that were really more me telling my story more than actually asking about her life. Then, as so often happens on Facebook, the conversation dwindled out. And I didn’t think much about Janette again.

Janette’s life always followed a different track than mine. Shortly after she finished college, Janette chose a role that most women in their early 20’s don’t take on. Janette’s brother, Todd, was abandoned by his wife. Todd had a baby boy to care for and two jobs to juggle. Janette put her career plans on hold and stepped in to help her brother. She was caring for her nephew when tragedy struck and that little boy was diagnosed with leukemia.

At our 10-year high school reunion, most of us showed up with husbands in tow and pictures of our babies and toddlers. A few women were pregnant. A few had older children. A few were still single and Janette was one of those. Janette, however, had her own pictures of “her boy.” She was fulltime caregiver for her nephew and she adored him. She showed off his picture just as proudly as if he were her own. The little guy was fighting the good fight against that leukemia.

At our 20-year high school reunion, many of us were dealing with adolescent kids. Some classmates were on their second or third spouse. Janette still had pictures of her nephew.

Just weeks earlier, Janette’s nephew had finally lost the leukemia fight as a young teenager. Janette wanted desperately to talk about how consuming the fight had been. She wanted to talk about her nephew’s last days. We listened, but not with a lot of comprehension or empathy. We really didn’t understand the road she’d been walking. All we saw was a 38-year-old woman who had devoted her entire life to a little boy who had just died. It looked like she had put her entire life on hold to care for her nephew. I secretly wondered what on earth she would do next. Had she missed the window of opportunity for her OWN happiness?

A few years ago, our 30-year high school reunion came and went. I didn’t attend because I lived across the country. I avidly pored over the photos that my classmates posted. Janette didn’t attend that reunion either and I don’t think anyone even wondered why. She had always been a pretty quiet person, so she probably wasn’t even missed.

Then Janette found me on Facebook two years ago. We exchanged those few messages. She really didn’t tell me much about her life and it never occurred to me to wonder much….until last week.

There in my Facebook feed was a status referring to Janette’s death. I did a huge double-take and scrambled to find out what happened. This is what I learned. After years and years of fighting breast cancer herself, Janette had finally died. I did some mental math. By my calculations, Janette received her cancer diagnosis only two years after her nephew slipped away. Years of photos show pictures of Janette, bald from chemo and looking really rough…for YEARS.

I realized that now I knew the answer to what came next for my high school friend after her nephew died. She faced her own mortality. The funeral home’s guestbook entries reflected a woman who was deeply loved, who deeply cared for others, who constantly “did” for others, who lived her life serving the people around her. Even though she never had the time or opportunity to marry and have her own family, her life was far from empty.

And then she died, three days after her 50th birthday.

Janette’s community mourns her loss deeply.

And I’ve been thinking about choices. About the paths our lives take, sometimes paths we knowingly choose, sometimes path we don’t consciously choose. Janette’s path was so very different from my own, but clearly right and good. Part of me feels a little sorry for the things that Janette never got to experience, but I’m not sure that’s the RIGHT thing to feel. I think that probably, at the end of the day, Janette knew she’d made the right choices all along. In fact, I know that she knew this.

You see, the last message Janette sent me on Facebook said, “I hope all continues to go well for you. God certainly is good. He takes us down paths that we don’t expect, doesn’t He and things always seem to work out.”

Rest in Peace, dear Janette.

I STILL get in Trouble with other Moms

I got in trouble yesterday.

For the last several weeks I’ve been playing matchmaker between an elderly relative on the other side of the country who needs a companion and a young lady in our community who is floundering around trying to figure out what comes next in life for her. Leah is a lovely young woman who has grown up in the local homeschool community. She is talented, smart and very beautiful. Leah doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and isn’t willing to put in any more semesters at the university until she figures that out.

When Aunt Sadie called to tell me that she really does, finally, need help driving (thank you, Jesus!) and just managing the mechanics of life and would I please keep my eye out for a young woman who might be a suitable companion…well, Leah was the first to come to mind.

Aunt Sadie came to visit and met Leah. They both enjoyed each other and are willing to start a dialog about what a companion job might look like.

Then yesterday, Leah’s mom confronted me at Bible study. She needed to talk to me about what I had been doing behind her back (!) with her daughter.


Leah is 21. I didn’t MEAN to go behind anyone’s back! Leah doesn’t live at home anymore. It honestly never occurred to me to ask her parents if it was okay to share a job opportunity with their daughter.

I was discussing the situation with Mountain Man and he pointed out that if some other family was trying to convince my 17-year-old that he needed to take a job 3000 miles from home, I would probably want to be part of the conversation. And while Leah is 21, she is a girl…and I don’t really know how differently protective I might feel about a daughter.

What this little dust-up has illustrated for me is that even when our kids get big, different parenting styles and choices can still cause tension. I wouldn’t think twice about someone persuading my 21-year-old son to travel across the country for a job, but some other mom might.

Our differences no longer center around what curriculum we use or whether or not we believe in spanking or junk food or dating. The issues may well be BIGGER!

I listen to another one of my friends talk about her expectations on her married daughter and grandchildren. Yikes. SO not how I would approach things, but evidently it’s how things run in THAT family.

The challenges of navigating different parenting approaches haven’t gone away. I still have the ability to get into trouble with other moms. I STILL need to live graciously with differences.



Public Notice

to whom it may concern:

Until further notice,

I am no longer available

to handle any personal crises that are not my own.

If you have an early morning crisis, please do not wake me.

If you have a mid-day crisis, please do not call and ask me to drop everything and join you in crisis mode.

If you have an evening crisis, please remember that no brain activity occurs after 8 PM. Even if I were available for crisis management, my contribution would be of minimal value.

I have worked hard to avoid constant crisis in my life and I expect you to do the same. 



I DO still miss them when they’re gone

I have one friend who is overtly in crisis over her empty nest. She cries. She mourns. She feels lost. She feels LOSS. Last summer when my two youngest sons were working out of state of summer camps, I worked hard to model how Excellent and Cool it can be to have an empty nest. What comes next is a Good Thing. Life is full of exciting possibilities and nothing more so than what lies ahead. This really is consistent with how I’ve tried to approach all the seasons of change with my kids. (My friend didn’t really appreciate my excellent modeling.)

The thing that has saved me thus far is that each new stage that my boys have grown into has been filled with new delights. I have told countless friends that I DON’T miss those baby years because the toddler years are so fun. I don’t miss the toddler years because I adore my little boys. I don’t miss the little boys because I delight in my adolescents. The teen years have been a trip and so much fun. The young adult years are turning into true joy.

I thought I was safe, you see. I thought that as long as I could keep finding cool things about the next age and stage, I wouldn’t ever have to mourn the passing of the last age and stage. No loss, always gain. Sounds like a winning plan to me!

What I didn’t count on was running out of stages.

There comes a time when the next stop isn’t on my road any more.  Of course, for the rest of their lives, for the rest of MY life, there are new things. New stages, new seasons, new growth. But we’ve reached a point where the new growth isn’t happening on my watch anymore. I’m no longer safe from loss.

The truth is that last summer when my house was empty of boys, in spite of my brisk, cheery words about empty nests and enjoying couple time again with Mountain Man, I really MISSED my kids. I missed them being kids. I missed them as adults. When we traveled north to the family cabin for a week, I missed having a cabin full of laughter, energy, good ideas, napping, coffee-drinking, baking, conversation. I missed that.

In spite of my brave talk, I don’t think there’s any way around it. I’m going to have to go THROUGH this missing.

On Serving as a Cautionary Tale

Four years ago, I agreed to be a MOPS mentor. MOPS is a ministry to Mothers of Pre-Schoolers that meets twice a month. I started out thinking that I could be an example. Hooray, it’s possible to survive 4 babies in five years. Hooray, after the intensity of parenting preschoolers, it’s possible to emerge with at least 3 brain cells left. Hooray, someday, you too can tell young moms that “this too shall pass.” I haven’t actually thought that way for awhile now.

Well, okay, I’m still an example, but really more of a cautionary tale. This week I was on the calendar to give the Mentor Moment at our MOPS meeting. I was kind of dreading it but I did prepare. It was the responsible thing to do. I’m weary with the young-adult parenting I’ve been doing and not really feeling all that inspired or inspiring.

I went to bed on Monday night, feeling not quite prepared but determined to do the responsible thing. I also reminded Baby A that he needed to be ready to leave on time to be at MOPS for the 8:45 AM set-up. Since he’s working childcare again this year, he could help with the early arrivals.

On Tuesday, at 8:59 AM, I opened my eyes after a night of broken, restless sleep. And swore. I cussed. I was due at the church 14 minutes before I even started my day! I swore some more. Only 19 minutes later, I raced into the all-purpose room that our MOPS group meets in.

Without my Bible.

Without my notes for my Mentor Moment.

Without my coffee.

Without the food I was supposed to bring to contribute to the weekly brunch.

Without my MOPS T-shirt. Hey, at least I was WEARING a shirt.

I was also out of breath. And sweating. Darn hot flashes. And a migraine….oh, it was pulsating in my head.

When it was my turn to share the Mentor Moment, this was all I had to say:

I need grace.

I was going to come this morning, all put together, to remind you that if you endure the preschool years, you too can be all put together again someday. But I’m here to serve as a cautionary tale. I am NOT all put-together.

Parenting isn’t any easier now than when the kids were preschoolers. It might be harder. (I didn’t have the heart to tell the young moms HOW MUCH harder.)

I needed grace when my kids were tiny. I need grace now.

I failed massively when my kids were preschoolers and I continue to fail pretty much every day. I need grace desperately. I did back then and I do now. Many things change as your kids grow up, but not that…not the need for grace.

I overslept, I forgot my Bible, I forgot my notes, I forgot my food, I forgot my shirt (but at least I have one on!) My head hurts and my house is a mess. I didn’t make my bed this morning and I don’t plan to make it this afternoon. I swore too. SEVERAL bad words. Some of them REALLY bad words.

I need grace. I need Jesus. Today. Right now.

And that’s all I’m here to tell you today. That, and there IS grace for this. For you. For me.


And I sat down.

I Don’t Know When to Stop Worrying

I don’t know when to quit worrying.  Decades of reading murder mysteries and watching current events give me far too much visual fodder for imagining the worst and I always do. Will my boys ever be old enough that I blithely hear of their exploits and DON’T feel a twinge of worry?

Last week, Middle ManCub was home from his high-stress job in Haiti for a week of rest and relaxation. We spent that quiet week at Grandma’s cabin with him, catching up on sleep, conversation, and good food.  He brought us nice Haitian rum….oh my! The good stuff! We drank a lot of coffee and listened a lot.

Early in the week, he told us he wanted to walk up the coast to the next larger town. He’d been dying to walk on the beach all by himself for miles and miles. Most mornings, however, the pull of his warm bed kept him tucked in until noon. The tiny twitch of relief each time that happened was an early warning sign that I had some irrational worry simmering. I mostly ignored it.

Two days before he needed to board a plane back to Haiti, Middle ManCub rolled out of bed at noon. He lounged about drinking coffee and eating bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. It had rained heavily the night before and looked like it might rain again. We all puttered around the cabin, reading, writing, cooking, and in general doing nothing.

At 3:15, Middle ManCub leaped to his feet and announced, “I’m going to walk up the coast to Small Coastal Tourist Trap now. I’ll give you a call if I need a ride.”  He shoved a water bottle and some sandals into his backpack and loped down the steps to the beach.

What? Didn’t he know it was 15 miles? Didn’t he know that the storms were still circling, spitting out torrents of rain and bolts of lightning periodically? Did he even take his phone? Did he know when sunset was? Had he put on sunscreen?

Question after question raced through my mind.

And sure enough, I spent the rest of the afternoon fretting. I imagined calling the Coast Guard at midnight and finding his lightning-struck body on the beach at 3 AM. I imagined a gang of bad guys (bad guys? Really? On the beach?) attacking him, beating him, leaving him dead on the beach. I imagined him dying of thirst (in one afternoon) or shivering  from exposure during the long night hours before finally perishing just before dawn.

And phones…bah! There’s no cell coverage along the coast! He wouldn’t be able to call for help. He would barely be able to call for a ride home because that small coastal town has such spotty cell coverage. Furthermore, I hadn’t seen the boy’s cell phone being charged and I knew firsthand how quickly a battery charge runs out when the phone is constantly seeking a signal. If he set out with a low battery, he’d NEVER reach us!

And then can we talk about shoes? He didn’t actually grab sandals. He grabbed an old pair of Crocs that he’s  been wearing for years. Would he even be ambulatory by the time he reached that little town?

Worst of all, I was pretty sure that no food had gone into that back pack. With no calories, how would he keep warm if he ended up being rained on and out in the elements overnight?

And then there are those bad guys…waiting behind a sand dune to jump him….

I spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to keep from hyperventilating, aware that my heart was racing faster than it should.

There was a tiny part of my brain that KNEW that I was worrying needlessly and inappropriately. There was a tiny RATIONAL part of me that was very aware that

  1. Middle ManCub is a MAN, not a boy. Yes, a gang of bad guys could certainly overpower him, but a GANG of bad guys is unlikely be to hanging out on a remote piece of beach, waiting for a scruffy college kid with no money.
  2. Middle ManCub has backpacked enough to have a little bit of sense about trekking for any distance.
  3. He had water.
  4. He DID have shoes.
  5. He was only going 15 miles and that along a very defined route.
  6. He DID have a cell phone.
  7. It was only August so death by exposure and cold were not likely.
  8. He’s actually walked this stretch of coastline before.
  9. Mountain Man and I both went on more dangerous adventures when we were his age. In fact, this probably didn’t even qualify as a dangerous adventure…not REALLY.
  10. This young man walks in GREAT faith in his God Who he trusts implicitly.
  11. He spends a great deal of time in a WHOLE LOT MORE DANGER every single day that he is in Haiti.

And that last might really be the crux of the biscuit for me. I don’t worry every single day, day in and day out, about Middle ManCub in Haiti because I don’t even KNOW to be worried. I don’t know WHAT to be worried about. And it’s probably just as well. I am forced to leave him in God’s hands and actually LIVE out my belief that nothing can touch him but that it comes through those Great Hands.

So there we were, in the United States, in a rural, coastal area. And I was free to go all out on the worrying. Which I did. Which was stupid. Surely God’s hands are big enough to reach the U.S. too. Surely He doesn’t need the extra horsepower of a mother’s worry to keep His eye glued to that particular sparrow.

I don’t, in fact, want to keep my kids from doing big adventures, dangerous things, high callings. I want them to RUN into their calling with their arms wide open. My mind knows that. My heart even knows it most of the time. My gut? Nope, it worries and worries and worries.

Sometimes it feels like Romans 12:1 (I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your spiritual act of worship) is my call to walk AWAY from the worry, present my worrying gut as a living sacrifice and live with my back to the worry.

The place I need to start is a resolve to NOT picture Middle ManCub’s body crumpled on a beach, or splayed on the broken pavement of an alley, or broken on a busy Haitian street.  I simply must stop picturing those things. That is my first offering.

Best of all, at 6:45 that night, Middle ManCub called for a ride. Fifteen miles in three and a half hours–he felt pretty good about that. And so did I.

Boys Fighting

“How do I stop my kids from fighting? What did YOU do?”  The earnest young mom of toddlers waited for my answer. And of course I didn’t have one!

I hate it when my kids fight. And yes, that’s present tense. They’re all big, practically grown, but the bickering continues. It provides a constant background of noise as they constantly hash out pack order, differences of opinion, and sometimes invented grievances. It wears me out as much now as when they were tiny. I WANT it to stop! I hate it! I just want everyone to get along!

When Baby A and Baby B returned from their respective out-of-state summer camp jobs last week, I actually saw progress though. It gave me a tiny bit of hope.

The squabble started in the kitchen, paraded through the living room, and landed in the boys’ shared bedroom. At last, the door slammed shut, muffling the angry, raised voices. Those voices continued to rise and fall in contention and strife. Occasionally, the cadence of things dipped below what I could hear. I picked up the occasional, reasoned tone of voice. They were clearly being coached on how to handle things, how to resolve the difference peaceably. I smiled to myself. Good. Let Mountain Man deal with these nearly-grown man-cubs.

When I went back to our bedroom to put away a load of clean clothes, however, there was Mountain Man, puttering on his computer. “Aren’t you in talking to the boys?” I asked in confusion. He looked up at me blankly. Uh, no. He wasn’t even hearing the angry bickering. Hmmmmmmm.

A few minutes later, the music in the kitchen resumed and I heard the clatter of dishes being rinsed and stowed in the dishwasher. I HAD to check this out!

There were Baby A and Baby B, working together, discussing the lyrics of the song blaring into the room. After I turned down the volume, I asked, “So did Dad help you work through your fight a few minutes ago? What were you guys doing in your bedroom?”

In tandem, the boys rolled their eyes just a little and both said, also in unison, “We were working it out ourselves, Mom!”

Part of me wanted to roll my eyes right back at them and say, “Well, it’s about TIME!” I contented myself with a matter-of-fact, “Well good,” and left the kitchen.(And secretly wondered how long it would take before another fight broke out, but I kept that wondering to myself.)

I always thought that growing up meant they’d no longer bicker and squabble. Maybe someday it will mean that, but today, it means that they at least know to go to a private place, shut the door, and reason with each other. Those skills may actually have more application than most of things I’ve thought they should learn.

The bickering isn’t completely over, but today I realized that my responsibility to do something about it…IS!

The Bullet I Almost Dodged

I’m the mother of sons. I LOVE being the mother of sons. Although there are multitudes of awesome things about having sons, one of the things that I’ve always secretly smirked about was The Talk. It’s always been Mountain Man’s job to have The Talk. After all, he’s The Dad and it only makes sense for him to have The Talk.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve always answered questions straightforwardly and factually. I’ve occasionally confirmed that, yes, what dad says IS the way it really works. Yes, I know, hard to believe. No, he would not make this stuff up. And inwardly I would sigh with relief that all I needed to do was confirm the information that they had already heard spelled out in detail. So, so, SO glad it wasn’t MY job to initiate The Talk!

Until yesterday.

Last spring, I lost a dear friend to breast cancer. She left behind a much-loved husband, a 13-year-old son, and an 11-year-old daughter. The void she left in their lives can’t be described with words, only tears. Yesterday, I stopped by to have dinner with the little family on my way across four states to a family cabin for a week of vacation. As soon as I walked through the door, the dad pulled me aside and said the words I hadn’t even known to dread! “Melanie has so many questions. Will you PLEASE talk to her about periods? About becoming a woman? About (gulp) sex? Will you let her ask you questions? Will you reassure her?”

Gulp indeed. I could not believe it! My youngest two are almost 18 and I was SURE I was well out of the danger zone of needing to have The Talk with anyone! But there was little 11 year old Melanie, looking up at me uncertainly, trying to smile. So what could I do? I snuggled down in a comfy chair in a private area, pulled Melanie in for a snuggle (I don’t know who was more desperate, her or me!) and realized that the moment of truth had come.

Did *I* know where babies came from? Well, turns out that I do. I was able to matter-of-factly explain the mechanics of everything….with no giggling. I affirmed that yes, God did a great job of designing our bodies. Yes, it does actually work.

Melanie had to run all the weird and wild stories she’d heard from her friends at school by me to see if any of them were true. Most, I was able to immediately debunk. One or two, I admitted to never having heard before. I concluded by offering to answer any other questions on the phone, as they came to mind. We finished with a hug and I felt a tiny sob shake Melanie when she tucked her head under my chin. I really wasn’t the one she wanted  to talk with about those private, personal things and we both knew it.

I had to laugh at myself. All these gleeful years of thinking that I’d dodged that bullet….and in the end, I needed to BITE that bullet and Have.The.Talk. God has a funny sense of humor sometimes. So funny, it makes me cry a little.