Don't just apply to college… Position yourself.

Senior Year Parent? Learn to Paint

My sister calls it “agita.” My Jewish girlfriend calls it “shpilkis”. It’s the kind of waiting that drives you crazy inside. You feel a sense of urgency, but the action isn’t up to you. You feel impotent and absolutely furious, like your head will explode.

Terrible headache“Did you finish that Common App essay yet?” you call out in your friendliest milk-and-cookie voice. However, your 17 year old is not fooled by your sugar-coated nagging. He has made up his mind to procrastinate, apparently as a passive-aggressive manuever just to annoy you, as punishment for infringing on his budding autonomy (or, in your parent-noia, are you simply imagining this?) He finally calls your bluff on the friendliness. “Stop it Mom! I’ve got homework to do too, you know!”

Which he isn’t even doing yet, even though he’s been home from school an hour already. The XBox sound effects drone on from the den, as if to mock you. You want to scream! Doesn’t he know applying to college is one of the most important actions of his life? Why doesn’t he…JUST DO IT?

You bite your tongue. You remember what the guidance counselor said about high school seniors “owning” the process. But what are you going to do with all this nervous energy, anxiety about the outcome, and anger about his attitude?

One day I just got in the car, peeled off to Michael’s Art Store, purchased a wooden desk easel, a set of acrylics, canvas, brushes, accessories, and an instructional book by Jerry Yarnell. I spent a few hundred bucks but I told my husband that it was safer than the Short Hills Mall. I set up at the kitchen breakfast bar, downloaded a collection of soothing New Age Celtic music,  slapped some titanium white gesso down on the canvas, and became a painter.

Not necessarily a good painter. But it made that glacially slow, nerve-wracking autumn a little more tolerable. “Watching paint dry” didn’t seem so torturous when I was actually painting (e.g., doing something). And I believe it made me a better mother. When I wasn’t breathing down his neck so much, he miraculously took more ownership. He finished his essays. He applied to college, and actually got accepted. Whew! He did just fine. And we didn’t kill each other! We actually still like each other.

Later that spring, I finally emerged from my painting sabbatical with more amateurish creations than room on my shelves, composed with pure joy and beginner’s abandon, ready to have lunch with the other high school moms again. I mentioned what I had been doing during senior year fall. Another mother piped in, “Oh, yes, I learned to crochet!” Yet another added, “I took up knitting. It helped me keep my mind off the college process!”

So I wasn’t the only one. As you start senior year, pick a new hobby, immerse yourself in it, and give your teen some peace. (Well, do nag him once in a while).