Down to the College Wire

Down to the college wire.

It’s April 1. College admissions decisions are out there for most schools, and now it’s time for lots of high school seniors to make their final choice. My daughter decided long ago, so we were happy to step off that hamster wheel, but she has friends who are still deciding. God bless them. Some of them are having a difficult time for lots of different reasons. Some didn’t get into their top choice. Some got into none of their top choices. Some got into every school they applied to and can’t decide which one is best. It’s just not easy. It’s an adult decision…the first adult decision lots of them have ever made. They feel alone. They know they are embarking on a new experience, but it can be scary, and they are afraid of making the wrong choice. You see that guy in the feature photo for this piece? He’s sitting there alone…that’s how lots of them feel right now… like they are alone. They need support from the folks who love them.

I’m no college counselor. I’m simply a parent of a high school senior, but there is one thing I wish all kids would consider: they need to find the best choice for themselves.

I hear lots of seniors saying their parents want them to go to one college, but they want to go somewhere else. I hear lots of them say they don’t want to disappoint their teachers/college counselors. I hear lots of them say they want to pick a school by how it’s ranked in US News and World Report. Who am I to say they’re wrong with their methods of decision-making? So no, I’m not going to say they are “wrong.”

I do, however, want to remind them they are the ones going to the school. Their parents won’t be attending. (If their parents are paying, affordability might come into play.) Their college counselors and classmates won’t be sitting in their desks in the classrooms, living in the dorm, or going to athletic events. Each senior needs to make his/her decision based on his/her preferences, because guess what? US News and World Report isn’t going to college either. What US News and World Report thinks is most important might not be what you think is most important. Different people like different things!

And as these kids (yes, they are still kids) make their final decisions, we need to offer them support instead of shaming them for their choices. I know lots of kids who get into “highly ranked institutions,” but they choose a school with a “lower ranking” because it offers other things they want. My own daughter would never get into an Ivy League school, but that’s OK, because that’s not where she wants to be anyway. And there are other kids who do get into Ivy League schools but opt for something else where they will have a different experience. Big sports are important to our daughter, and she would laugh at Ivy League football games. No offense to the Ivy League people of the world, of course, but she likes to watch more competitive football. I have lots of Ivy League friends I love, but even they admit SEC football is awesome.

Some kids want to go to schools that are more outdoorsy. In North Carolina, one school that is “outdoorsy” is Appalachian State University. I know lots of very successful people who went to school there and loved it. Is it a Top 50 school, according to US News and World Report? No. But it’s number one to those people who love it. All kinds of people go there, though…not just the “outdoorsy” people. I went to the University of Alabama. Again, not a Top 50 school by US News and World Report’s rankings, but I think it’s number one! It’s fun! It’s absolutely gorgeous…looks like a movie set. It has a wide array of majors and lots of opportunities in different areas. And it’s geographically diverse. I made some of my best life memories there and certainly made lifelong friends from all over the country. Over 65% of the student body is from out of state. The weather during tornado season is iffy, but most winters are pretty mild, and the sun shines a lot. Some people (like me and my daughter!) don’t want cold climates. And come on…football season is crazy fun there. Also, BarstoolU just ranked it as the number one party school in the country. Lots of people likely think that’s shallow. I think it’s important to have lots of options for fun, and so does my daughter.

Some of these kids might get into “highly ranked” big colleges/universities, but some of those same kids might think a smaller, liberal arts college would be a better fit for their personality. Don’t look down on them for choosing what is best for them. Applaud them for knowing themselves! You can’t put a square peg into a round hole. Or maybe you can, but the square peg likely won’t be happy there. And ultimately, don’t we want our kids to be happy in college? We want them to be happy there so they will stay there. We want them to be successful in college and beyond.

On the flip side, I was talking with a woman a few days ago who was in distress that her daughter wanted to go to a college far away. She wants her daughter to be happy, but said they don’t have any idea how they will pay for transportation costs. Yes, these kids are still kids, but they are pretty reasonable too, and they often understand that affordability counts too. Guess who is not paying your child’s college tuition? The college counselors at your school aren’t paying it. Their friends’ parents aren’t paying it. And their friends are not paying it. Some of them truly need to go to the “highest bidder,” meaning they need to go to the school that offers them the most money/financial aid.

And I recently spoke with another parent of a high school senior who was trying to make the decision for her daughter, saying, “She wants to go to XXXX University, but I just think she would love XXXXX University. I wanted to go there, but my parents wouldn’t pay the out of state tuition.” She’s trying to push her daughter into going where she wanted to go. Ick. We can’t live vicariously. We, the parents, aren’t going to college. We need to remember that too.

Here’s the skinny: each kid who is deciding on a college right now has different factors to consider. They have different priorities and different interests. Let’s applaud them for their decisions; this is one of the first tough decisions they will make in life.

We’re getting down to the college wire. Again, I’m not a college counselor, but I know it’s a tough time for lots of teens. Celebrate their decisions.

Movies for My Senior

Movies for my senior.

We are not a movie family. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because two of us have Attention Deficit Disorder, but we just don’t sit down and watch movies very often. Sure, during COVID shutdowns, I forced our daughter to watch a few movies with me (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Clueless and Sliding Doors, all of which received two thumbs up from her), but generally speaking, we don’t watch movies.

However, we are nearing her high school graduation, and I feel like we are under the gun. I feel like there are movies she needs to see. This occurred to me tonight as I was making our daughter one of my famous grilled cheese sandwiches (yes, they are famous among the teenage set in Charlotte)…and singing the theme song from the 70s movie, Car Wash…because that’s what I do…I sing while I work. But while I worked and sang tonight, I realized I’ve been remiss! I should have shared more of my favorite movies with her! She leaves for college in four months, and I need to squeeze in some classics from my youth (and a few others) before she goes! We talked about it tonight, and she agreed to watch some of them with me over the next few months.

So I sat down and made a list, but as I made the list, one movie would lead to another! The list is now at more than 35 must-see movies. There is no way we will watch 35 movies in the next few months, so I will start with some of my personal favorites.

  • Sense and Sensibility. I know this one is unexpected, but this is one of my all-time favorites…the one starring Emma Thompson. I am a firm believer that every woman on earth should read Jane Austen’s novels, and the best way to get started is by watching this film adaptation. The scenery is beautiful. The people are gorgeous (Mr. Darcy!), and the story is one of the best ever. If you think I’m crazy for having this one at the top of the list, you haven’t seen it. Watch it. And after you watch it, read the book. You’ll understand the language and characters better after seeing the movie. And when you finish reading Sense and Sensibility, move on to her other novels… Pride and Prejudice while the rhythm of the language is fresh in your brain…then Mansfield Park, Emma (also a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and the modern-day Clueless is loosely based on it), Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey.
  • Risky Business. Anyone who was a teenager in the 80s knows this is an essential film. Tom Cruise became really famous after making this bit of cinematic history. Other great teenage movies from the 80s were, of course, the John Hughes films: Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club. Come on…Mr Hughes directed the stories of our lives! He introduced us to relatable characters! We knew those people! Another great? Fast Times at Ridgemont High, for sure…didn’t we all know some version of Spicoli?

I dug a little deeper and came up with lots of other favorites. Some have cultural significance, and some don’t. Anyone who was a teen in the 80s knows St Elmo’s Fire, with its Brat Pack cast, had a huge influence on our lives. Throw in About Last Night for more Brat Pack action.

But there are other favorite movies that are not based on the 80s. Muriel’s Wedding, starring Toni Collette, is a less-known film that I think offers a great story and some wisdom to go with it. And every time I see my friend, Kristi, we have to watch Brooke Shields in Endless Love…what a teenage love story that is!

I’m sure everyone has their own favorites. Please feel free to share! Here is my list of essentials. I’m sure I have forgotten some…

  • Airplane!-slapstick comedy circa 1980. It’s stupid. It’s funny. It’s iconic.
  • American Graffiti-a coming-of-age film set in the early 1960s in California. It’s all about cruising in Modesto in one night. Released in 1973, the cast is stellar. It was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by George Lucas. It’s a must-see film for every American.
  • Animal House-An American classic. No one should go to college without seeing this film. John Belushi and great music…need I say more?
  • Back to the Future-released when I was a teenager, this film is a classic. The sci-fi concept takes the lead character (played by Michael J Fox) back in time, via a Delorean car turned time machine, to the 1950s, where he meets his parents as teenagers. It’s funny and thought-provoking.
  • The Bad News Bears-I think this movie gives kids a glimpse into life in the 1970s, when people smoked everywhere and a drunk might just be your little league coach. Not one kid on that team had a helicopter parent!
  • Breakfast Club-John Hughes…no need to say more. Teenagers today are very familiar with the film, and Nickelodeon’s Victorious even did a parody of it a few years ago.
  • Caddyshack-How many times did I watch Caddyshack as a teenager? It was on HBO all the time, and if nothing else was on, I could always settle in and watch Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray. And everyone remembers the poop in the pool scene. It’s a funny movie, and people make references to it all the time, so everyone needs to be familiar with it.
  • Dirty Dancing-I had friends in college who saw this film on the big screen multiple times. The music is great. The setting…a resort in the Catskills…is fun. And the characters are well-defined. I think this movie wasn’t supposed to be a hit, but it was a sleeper! Women fell in love with Patrick Swayze, and the music from the 60s will keep you dancing in your seat. Again…lots of references come from this movie. “I carried a watermelon.” “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” You knew it before I said it.
  • Endless Love-I will be the first to admit it’s not the greatest movie. But the story is intriguing, and don’t all teenage girls love a good love story? This one has lots of twists and turns. Must-see. ***For another Brooke Shields movie, I would say Blue Lagoon, but I’m not sure I can sit through it again.
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High-Another coming-of-age film, this one is set in California. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, who went undercover at a high school in San Diego. Anyone who grew up in the 80s knew someone like each of the characters. Some sheltered teenagers of 2022 will be shocked by some of the storylines and candor, but others will likely shrug. And didn’t all boys fall in love with Phoebe Cates when they saw this movie?
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner-This film is an American classic. I took my daughter to see it on the big screen several years ago, but she fell asleep. She needs to see it again, as it addresses racism and the struggle for equality.
  • The Goonies-I’m almost embarrassed to say this: I have never seen The Goonies. I’m not sure how this one got past me, since it was released right after I graduated from high school. I have friends who think this is one of the greatest movies of all time. This one might be one of the first ones we need to watch.
  • Groundhog Day-So this movie is not from my teen years or even college years, but it is one of those movies everyone needs to see once, in my opinion. Bill Murray (again!) stars as a weatherman who is reporting on Groundhog Day from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but he keeps living the same day over and over. He hates the town and the people who live there, but wakes up there repeatedly. After reliving the day many times, he finds a way to make it work for him as he seeks a relationship with Andie McDowell’s character and ends up falling in love with the town in the process.
  • Imitation of Life-Based on a novel by Fannie Hurst (one of my favorite books, by the way) that was a bestseller in 1933. Mrs. Hurst was a celebrity in the first half of the 20th century as a bestselling female author and activist. The film was released in 1959 and stars Lana Turner. It doesn’t cover all the intricacies of the book, but the story is good, nonetheless. It’s a story of the difficulties of motherhood, living a lie, the harsh realities of life, and friendship.
  • Jaws-I saw this film shortly after my 8th birthday. My parents dropped off me and my 6-yr-old brother at the theatre (Eastern Shore Cinema in Daphne, Alabama) on a Saturday for our weekly double feature…which meant four hours of free date time for them. So yes, we saw Jaws unaccompanied, because back in the 1970s, parents didn’t hover over every move their kids made. And my mother hovered more than a lot of moms, but the movie theater was our babysitter. I’m sure my daughter will think the special effects of this one are funny, but this movie is a classic. She has to see it. Lots of life references come from this move, like, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
  • Karate Kid-Wax on, wax off. Another classic, she simply needs to see this David and Goliath film. There are so many great things about it: love, mentorship, discipline…
  • Mean Girls-Another one I’m embarrassed to admit I have not seen. My daughter has seen it and simply cannot believe this one got past me. She has proposed we watch it together. Deal!
  • Moonstruck-This is one of my favorite films of all time. So many great lines came out of this film. The characters are well-defined, and the plot has twists and turns everywhere. Cher, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, and Nic Cage are all great in this movie. “Do you love him, Loretta?” “Yes, Ma, I love him awful.” “Oh God, that’s too bad.”
  • Porky’s-Not exactly a classic, but every teenager in the 1980s saw the original Porky’s movie and the sequels. We can all name the characters: Meat, Peewee, Mrs Ballbricker, Honeywell, Cherry Forever…the list goes on and on. It’s raunchy. It’s stupid. But teenagers found it hilarious in the 1980s. The original was the fifth highest-grossing film of 1982 behind ET, Tootsie, An Officer and a Gentleman, Rocky III…and ahead of Star Trek II, 48 Hrs, Poltergeist, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas! All those movies were great, but Porky’s hung in there! (And even though I’m not mentioning any of those movies in my list, they could all be added at any time!)\
  • Pretty in Pink– iconic 80s teen film. My daughter has seen it, but we might need to see it one more time before she goes to college.
  • Private Benjamin-Goldie Hawn stars as a spoiled widow who joins the US Army. Eileen Brennan is her wicked drill sergeant who fully expects her to fail, but of course, she beats the odds. It’s a movie about female empowerment. Near the top of the list.
  • Rear Window-Obviously, not a 1980s teenage movie, but a Hitchcock film that’s thought-provoking. Also, The Birds, another Hitchcock. Oooh…and Vertigo! Maybe we should just do a Hitchcock home film festival.
  • Risky Business-I mentioned this one already, but it’s just so good!
  • Say Anything and Some Kind of Wonderful-two great 80s movies about teenage love. Must see.
  • Sixteen Candles-a personal fave, even though this film could never be made today.
  • Smokey and the Bandit-It’s silly. It’s politically incorrect. But it’s a young Burt Reynolds looking like a mustachioed porn star in his black Pontiac Trans Am. Sally Field is adorable. Jerry Reed is funny. And who can forget the late, great Jackie Gleason?! “let me have a Diablo Sandwich, a Dr Pepper, and make it fast! I’m in a xxxxxxx hurry!” Must see. (This one will be on the big screen at my local theater in May!)
  • St Elmo’s Fire-New college graduates who are friends face the world. The Brat Pack.
  • Top Gun-80s, Tom Cruise, fighter jets, motorcycle, love, bar scene, volleyball scene. If you know, you know.
  • The Way We Were-This one was released in 1973. Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. This film follows Streisand’s character, Katie, as she changes from activist to conventional wife back to activist…through her relationship with Hubble Gardner, a man for whom life is easy. One of my all-time faves.
  • There’s Something About Mary-a fun cast and hilariously immature plot line make this movie one of my favorites. It’s just stupid humor that you can’t unsee. And for the rest of my life, every time I hear Build Me Up, Buttercup, I will think of this movie.

I’m sure I have forgotten some of my favorites. Please feel free to submit your own recommendations. Of course, there is no way we will be able to watch all these before she leaves for college, but we can watch some of them!

Senior Spring Break 2022

Senior Spring Break 2022.

This morning, in my Facebook memories, my post from this date in 2020 said we were getting prepared for a fun spring break trip to Miami. And yes, on this date in 2020, we were, indeed, getting prepared, but it ended up being “the spring break that wasn’t.” Because of the pandemic, we ended up canceling that vacation the day before we were scheduled to leave. My daughter was a sophomore in high school, and we were supposed to be meeting our friends from Ohio…and then we had to cancel. It was heartbreaking, but at that point, we were all terrified of the virus. We spent that spring break on our back patio. Thanks to unseasonably warm weather, we were able to swim and catch some rays right here in our Charlotte back yard. We felt fortunate to have our own little oasis and good weather, so at least we weren’t stuck inside.

Fast forward two years, and here we are…ready to go on our daughter’s senior spring break trip to Jamaica. This is one of those “lasts” we all talk about as our children enter their senior year of high school. The last high school spring break is here. Over 60 students from her graduating class are going with a parent or parents to an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay. Would I pick an all-inclusive normally? No, but I have heard it is the perfect place for a bunch of high school seniors to gather. Am I looking forward to it? Yes. If all goes as planned, it should be a great opportunity for these kids to have some fun together before they graduate in May. Hopefully, they will make lasting memories…good memories…with people they have known for years. Some of these kids have known each other since they started Transitional Kindergarten together. My daughter was four years old for the first six weeks of Transitional Kindergarten, and several of those same classmates/friends are going on this trip.

Every student who is going has to have a parent there who is willing to take responsibility for them. I told my daughter early on that I would not take an extra child on this trip. Normally, we take one or two of her friends on vacation with us, but for several reasons, I said “no” to extra kids. The main reason is that I don’t want to get stuck in Jamaica for an extra two weeks because another kid tests positive for the virus and can’t come home. It’s one thing if my own child tests positive, but I don’t want to be stuck with someone else’s child. Another reason? I don’t want to be responsible for another person’s child in this setting. Most of them are 18 years old, so they’re of legal drinking age in Jamaica. I’m fine with that, but I don’t want to have to monitor a child besides my own. Teenagers can be difficult to track. I only want to track one. She knows my rules. Does that mean she won’t break them? There are no guarantees, but she knows the ground rules going in.

Tomorrow, I’ll start packing for the trip. We are only going for four nights, so packing should be pretty easy…beach clothes, swimsuits, coverups, and a couple of cuter things for dinner. I’ll also take a couple of books and a giant beach hat. Makeup? Minimal. I don’t check bags. I have the perfect carry-on bag and a backpack. If it doesn’t fit in there, it won’t go with me. Therefore, I will purchase sunscreen after we arrive. I don’t want to be slowed down in airport security by having liquids in my bags.

So here we go. Like I said…one of the “lasts.” It’s the last spring break trip we will have together before she goes off to college. We have enjoyed lots of spring breaks over the years. A few times, we went to the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards in Los Angeles. We went to Miami last year. Other times, we went to Cancun or the Bahamas…all good times. It is possible (and very likely) it will be the last spring break trip we ever have together. I remember my own college experience. Spring break is for trips with friends in college. So I plan to enjoy this one. No, I won’t likely have a lot of time with our daughter, but I will be able to have some time with her, and I will enjoy watching her with her friends.

Senior Spring Break 2022. Let’s get this party started!

Moms Stick Together

Moms stick together.

My daughter, a senior in high school, was just accepted to my alma mater, and we have paid the enrollment deposit. Next fall, she will be attending a university that is 450 miles away from home…450 miles away from us! But thinking about it doesn’t cause me great stress, for a number of reasons. One reason is that we live in Charlotte, a hub city for American Airlines. We can hop on one of five or six daily flights and be by her side pretty quickly. Another reason? I’m familiar with the surroundings there; there is some comfort in familiarity. The main reason? I know lots of people who live pretty close to the university who can act quickly to help her if needed. There is a lot of comfort in that.

Last Friday, at a high school football game, I was chatting with the mother of another senior, and she told me her son is interested in the same school, but they are hesitant for him to go there, because it’s so far away! A six or seven hour drive! I reminded her that we can be there quickly on American Airlines. And then I told her what every mom really wants to hear: I have lots of friends in the area who can be there to help with just one phone call, and I’m happy to make introductions. Moms like to know their college-age kids have someone to help them if they need it. Sure, they’ll be eighteen years old, but people need support systems…even at my age, I need a support system. When I told my friend that I know other moms and dads there who will be happy to help, I could see her relax. “Really? That makes me feel so much better,” she said.

One thing I’ve learned from being a mother for the last almost-18-years is that moms have to support each other. We have to stick together. We have to help each other.

Three years ago, my friend, Wendy, passed away after a long battle with various forms of cancer. I had met Wendy through a toddler playgroup right after my daughter turned one. Today is her 50th birthday, so I’ve had her on my mind. I posted something on Instagram and on Facebook about her birthday, and all our playgroup moms commented. One of them sent a text saying, “Thinking of Wendy today and that always makes me think of you all and the playgroup that saved my life and enriched my girls’ childhood. Love you all.” And she wasn’t exaggerating. We were all first-time moms when we met, and we truly saved each other. We started as a weekly playgroup but went on to become best friends, support systems, confidantes…we saved each other, for sure. With toddlers, life can be lonely, but our weekly playgroup turned into friendship so strong that we gathered almost daily. It saved our sanity and gave our kids a support group too!

All our kids went on to different preschools, kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. They’ll probably all go to different colleges. But along the way, they’ve always known that core playgroup was rooting for them. They might not get together regularly, but they’re still friends. They know who they really are. They know their childhood would not have been the same without each other. And along the way, the playgroup moms have added other support systems, but we still know we have each other…no matter what.

I know our kids have learned a lot from us (and vice versa), but I hope that, along the way, they learned the importance of finding and maintaining a good support system. They saw their moms supporting each other, propping each other up when it was needed. I like to think they know that, no matter where they are in college, if they need someone to call, they can always call one of the playgroup moms. They can even call one of the playgroup kids…the ones who are almost adults now. And I hope they share that support system with other people who need it.

Don’t we all feel like that mom who is concerned about her son being 450 miles away without a support system? Don’t we all like to know there is someone we can call or someone our children can call in an emergency, or if they just need to talk with someone?

Two weeks ago, a college friend I haven’t seen in years texted me, telling me she was afraid her teenage son might be stranded in the Charlotte Airport and asking me about hotels near the airport. There is no way I would have let her teenage son go to a hotel, and I’m sure she knew that, but she didn’t want to impose. I texted her back, saying, “I don’t live too far from the airport. If he is stranded, call me, and I will bring him to our house for the night.” Another friend in Ohio had called me two weeks before that, asking if I could pick up an Ohio friend’s daughter at the airport and keep her for the night if she missed her connection. Of course I could! I was flattered to be asked! And you know why?!?! Because I want to be part of someone’s support system. I certainly would have called on those friends to help my daughter if needed!

So yes, we moms have to stick together…especially the moms of high school seniors who are preparing to go off to college. I’m putting it out there now: if your child is going to college in or near Charlotte, put me on your list of people to call in an emergency. I’ll always help.