Sunday, March 25, 2012

Getting Ready For College

People have been asking how’s our college search going.  Specifically, they ask: What are you doing?

I’m sorry to report, not much.

I am armed with books and websites that I don’t look at because they’re too overwhelming, or because The Teenager has no idea what kind of school he wants to go to.  He vacillates between Ivy League and County College, depending on how onerous his workload is that week. 

I’ve tried to do the questionnaires on websites like College Board, an activity that’s supposed to narrow your search down to a manageable number of schools that you can then research further.  I’ve done this particular questionnaire three times, each time pretending I’m The Teenager and answering questions as I think he would (or should).  Each time, when I reach the end of the questionnaire, there are no suggestions.  Zero.  Apparently, there’s not one single college that fits my criteria.

I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.

In between my bouts of inertia, I’ve been dismantling all our old Lego sets so I can sell the pieces by the bag.  There’s a local consignment shop that I give quart-sized Zip-Locks filled with hundreds of dollars worth of colorful plastic and the proprietor says there’s a waiting list for them.  I sit in the basement pulling apart Harry Potter sets and Star Wars sets that result in the same back aching stiffness as when I sat for hours with my kids putting them together in the first place.

I have five huge shopping bags of Legos in my trunk right now. 

Lately, The Teenager has been broaching the subject of California.  As in, Would you consider letting me go to school out there?

I’ve said no to this in the past.  It’s a long ways away and, you know, they have earthquakes out there.  But in some ways, California would really suit him and I’m now trying to pry open my stubborn mind and at least try to consider his applying.

I’m not a big fan of earthquakes (or most any destructive act of God, really), but the main reason I don’t want him to go to school in California is because I’m afraid he’ll want to stay there forever.  Should I live my life in sunny California, or should I move back to New Jersey?  Duh.

He says things like, “I like such and such school, but they don’t offer a Latin minor,” and I say, “For God’s Sake, do not pick a school based on whether they offer Latin,” even though I know that if he spends a lot of time studying Latin in school, there’s a really good chance he’ll end up close to home after college; maybe even back in his old bedroom, which would address at least one of my concerns: deep down I don’t really want him to leave.

Many of the Lego sets I’m pulling apart are structures that The Teenager and I worked long and tireless hours on.  The instructions have no words and you simply do the best you can to interpret what the diagrams are asking of you.  There’s something about the pictograms that level the playing field for parent and child.  You teach each other how to build together.

I’ve never been a Sporty Mom or a Video Game Mom or (perish the thought) an Action Figure Mom, so Legos became one of the few things I could spend time doing with my boys where we’re both really engaged – where I wanted to be doing just that. 

So, not to get all goopy, but breaking down the Legos feels a little like taking apart a childhood.

There will be mothers at the consignment shop who will happily plunk down five bucks to score a bag of random Lego pieces.  Mothers who have never thought about Subject SATs or how they might manage to nag their child effectively across several time zones, and are only trying to find something to occupy their kids for a time – to engage their creativity and delight them with something new.

I try to make each bag unique by distributing the cool Lego accoutrements evenly.  One gets a little yellow life boat.  Another gets some teeny gold Lego coins.  Lego snakes in one.  Lego-copter in another. 

I want their new pint-sized owner to stick his smooth, perfect hand deep into the bag of plastic parts and pull something out that makes his eyes go wide.  Something that he holds out to his mother and says, “Look what I got!” and it becomes another little thing that the two of them have together – that they can cherish and marvel how lucky they were to pick a bag that held such a special little secret, just for them. 

I want the mother to treasure the look on his face – the look that says, You got me this…You did this for me!  I want her to burn that look into her heart so she always knows where to find it, long after she herself has packed the Legos away.

I don’t think it’s getting me very far, but that's what I've been doing to get ready for college.


  1. Wow, I tried to read this out loud to my wife and the mother of our 9 year old and I was overcome with sobs. I literally couldn't read it out loud without several breaks. And THIS comes after your self pitying piece about going to writing workshops?

  2. You are doing the exact right thing, if you ask me, regarding your son's college search. Let him lead the way.
    I did the Lego dismantling three years ago and I felt my very foundation shake. Now I'm sorting through princess costumes and softball gear; my daughter, my baby, will leave for college in September. You said it perfectly. Thanks.

  3. Here's how I did the Lego dismantling, I invited someone over who has a 7 year old and ended up selling her two giant bins of valuable legos for $85.00. I felt like a sap and then she bought a 3.5 million dollar home. I felt like more of a sap.
    So then I called a person I like a lot with two five year old twins and gave them another two giant bins of legos, one of which was a complete Lego train set. I felt better giving the stuff away. What does that say about my college preparation?

  4. Great post thank you.
    I love your writing, the way you intertwine of dismantling Lego with reflection on your son's past/future.
    It's great that you are giving away the Lego to other families but I would also consider keeping a set (or two) packed away. In a few years your son will probably call home and ask what happened to all his Lego :-)
    It would be a wonderful way for him to connect with it again.

  5. It's worth it to read such post, it's very useful, the thoughts are really great that I can say that I agree with those.

  6. There really never are any legos at consignment sales/shops around here. My takeaway is look for a mom of a teen to find legos.

    I always wonder why everyone from the east thinks of california as "earthquakes". I think of the west as the ocean, somehow the pacific seems more blatant. The atlantic you have to seek out. And socal has a smell, eucalyptus trees...

  7. Jessica, your writing is a lovely tapestry...always is. My Mom had a consignment shop in Montclair, The Barter Box, which she began with her friend down the street on Marion Road, and it lived on for years when the Irish socialist Mom of a grammar school pal moved it to Walnut Street. Don't know whether they would have advised you to bundle all the Legos together. Mom then went on to a long and personally successful career in Montclair real estate, because she loved marrying the customers she came to know as friends with just the right home. (People like Olympia and Louie, whom she particularly liked for his booming voice:) She and my pal's Mom might well offer the same advice to your Latin-loving Teenager (...BTW, an objectifying and distancing moniker that makes me cringe every time I read it, but I trust you have your reasons beyond security, because heavens to Betsy, there aren't too many wolves in the area, only coyotes, and presumably everyone knows who you're talking about.) I know, skip the scenario. OK. The Moms would say: By all means, encourage your kid to follow his passion(s). If it's Latin, fine. It doesn't matter what the hell he majors in as an undergraduate, especially if he's shackled himself to the love of the liberal arts. What's important is chasing a passion, unlocking his reason for caring and being. Otherwise, divide those expensive little suckers up into zip-locked 1/64s and continue the torture. Pack him off to Wharton. It's two hours away. -- peter