Driving down the highway, the sun barely up, my teen asleep next to me, I fantasized about the bonding experience of our first college visit. I envisioned how he would get excited over the prospect of heading off to college and all the wonderful things we would share on the tour. So, as we neared the campus, Alex woke up and I cheerfully declared, "You are going to love college, Alex; it's so much better than high school!"
"Yeah, Mom," Alex answered in a tone that screamed, Mom, you have no idea; you went to school in the caveman days!
I slid into a narrow parking spot, hand on the gearshift, as Alex emphatically declared, "This place isn't for me."
"Can I put the car in park before you make that assessment?"
Alex twisted in his seat. "Doesn't feel right. I don't like the buildings. It has weird architecture."
Caffeine deprivation ate my last nerve. "Listen, Frank Lloyd Wright, I'm not concerned about buildings. Besides, we are just checking it out. Keep an open mind!" I demanded. We then walked toward the admission building -- which held a close resemblance to the Addams Family house.
More from CafeMom: 20 Top Party Colleges in the US: Is Your Kid at One?
Our tour started in a large, damp, and musty room full of parents and kids, all looking as happy as mine. An admissions officer introduced five tour guides: four cheery, energetic, and smiling college students eager to share their knowledge, and one small guy with glasses, fidgeting and looking unsure if he could pull off a tour at all. We got the last guy.
The tour went downhill from there. Our guide, Ed, who walked backwards the entire tour, did his best to inspire enthusiasm. Upon entering the library, he stopped and nervously noted, "This is the library and they have lots of books." Alex rolled his eyes at me and I whispered, "Stop the eye rolling; I need to hear this. It's all new to me."
His face twisted. I continued: "Yes, when I went to college they didn't have books in the library, just those large stones people chiseled." A small crack that resembled a smile poked through his frown.
As we walked between buildings, Ed nervously extolled the advantages of his school and suggested my future Criminal Justice major could join some campus clubs. I smiled, thinking, Finally, Alex might find something redeeming. Then Ed listed a few: "There's the cheese club, the people-watching club, or the puppy club." I looked for the rolling of the eyes, but Alex had disengaged. I shot Ed an expression that I hoped screamed, Ed, work with me here!
More from CafeMom: 10 Skills to Teach Your Teen Before College
Ed abruptly stopped in front of a large bell and proudly divulged a time-honored tradition: "As an alumni, when you die, this bell will be rung for you." I nudged my miserable, but now listening, child and told him, "Hey, write that down as a positive!"
"Why will I care if I'm dead?" Alex retorted as he tapped his watch. He wanted to go and so did I.
The following week, my optimism on shaky ground, we ventured to our next college. As we waited in admissions, I fidgeted nervously as I looked through the pamphlets stacked on the side tables. Alex sat looking like he'd rather be at the orthodontist having his braces tightened.
More from CafeMom: 8 Mistakes Parents Make With Their Kid's College Application
As the guide walked us through the campus, kids smiled, talked, and went about their day, just like on the first tour, but somehow, something felt different. The school felt more like my child, and I could imagine him there.
And like a light switch had been flipped, Alex's mood was different. He questioned our guide and engaged in the tour -- I rubbed my eyes, clearing my vision to make sure I had the right kid.
At the end of the tour, Alex turned to me and asked happily, "Can we go to the bookstore?"
"I want to look around. I'm definitely applying here!" For the first time all day, I exhaled, and that's when I realized there is a place for everyone, and the trick is finding what speaks to your child. It may not be something your kid can see or hear, but a feeling, an intuition that drives his or her decision to apply.
Celeste Chin left the corporate world to raise her children and eventually pursue a career in writing. Also a substitute teacher, she lives in New Jersey with her two teenage boys. Celeste recently completed writing her first children’s novel, for children 9 to 12 years old. Her favorite hobbies surround spending time with her sons, either on the golf course, skiing, hiking, or kayaking, just to name a few.
Image via iStock.com/kali9