Maurice Sendak’s Pierre, Shel Siverstein’s The Giving Tree, Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go; there are a lot of important messages to be learned from children’s books. So many of them focus on advice to youngsters relevant to the road ahead and preparing to leave for college that it’s nice to find a story with a message for those doing the sending.
The flexible timetable of July’s summer days and nights presented a unique opportunity for extended bedtime reading with my three young children. We found ourselves delighted by returning to some old and favorite stories we’d not read in quite some time. Big Day on the River, by Sarah Wilson, illustrated by Randy Cecil was one such book. A delightful story of young Willie, who bubbles over with excitement at the idea of spending her first day alone in a raft on the Wallawatchee River, it begins with a description of her anticipation and confidence. “Skinny-legs-tall, eyes sparkling, she ran down Uncle Buster’s old dock and lowered herself to the little raft bobbing at the end. Whump! ‘Off we go-dee-o,’ she sang. The day was a dazzle. Bright sun, no wind, and the river like a sky mirror with hardly a ripple.”
Willie’s loving and well-intentioned relatives proceed to load her up with all the things she might need on her adventure. Watermelons, lemonade, a bicycle, warm blankets, sun umbrellas, even a camp stove (because everyone needs one of those for a day out on the water).
“Now that’s what I call a well-stocked raft,” [Cousin] Clyde booms as he offers to lend her a hand getting her gear under way. With glee and purpose, he launches himself over the dock and onto the raft, now stacked precariously with a load far too hefty for its size. As if receiving a final Jenga block tossed haphazardly onto a teetering tower, the raft and all of its “helpful” contents sinks.
Willie’s family members make their way back to shore after collecting the “rescued flotsam.” They turn to Willie to hear her patient and final plea. “I love you all to popping, but please take back these wondrous things! All I really need are your hugs and your kisses and your very best wishes!”
With proud smiles, Willie’s grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles, share in a moment of realization that Willie is ready for an independent adventure. “Those you have, Willie Child,” mumbled Gramma Clemmie, dabbing her eyes with Grampa Zeke’s wet shirttail. Always!” shouted everybody else…”
The story finishes with an charming picture of Willie, drawn from behind, setting off into the clouds. “…Greatly hugged and lightly packed, Willie launched her raft out on the Wallawatchee. At last.”
A reminder that love and support can often mean letting go of a child, trusting that he or she is ready for the next step, this book is a great example of what college counselors hope happens to parents and their children throughout the admission process. High school seniors are eager to know that their parents are engaged and, despite what it may seem during that battle over the “to do” items you wish they’d just finish, your sons and daughters do appreciate a certain amount of parental guidance. Parents also, are understandably eager to ensure that their children are equipped with the right tools to achieve their college goals. Being involved and paying attention is a good thing. Sometimes, however, parents over-provide. Sometimes, offering firm (and constant) opinions, input and guidance can be overwhelming to a young person establishing his or her adult legs. A parent’s intense desire to lend a hand and serve as a safety net can heighten the emotional experience for a student in a way that makes him or her shut down. For after all, “If my parents don’t believe I can do it…” Being too involved, providing too much scaffolding for your child, making the process yours instead of helping your child navigate his or her own road, is also the reason some moms and dads earn the colorful title of “helicopter”, “curling” or “snowplough” parent. The “help” always come from a place of love, but isn’t always what is best for the student.
Most seniors are ready to take on the personal responsibility of searching for the right fit, of choosing an essay topic, of introducing themselves to admission officers during campus visits. They understand the role that cost and available resources will (and should) play as they consider prospective paths. They get that there is power in a thank you note and why meeting deadlines is important. They are capable. They are enthusiastic. They crave confirmation that they are prepared for the Wallawatchee.
The college admission process is a time filled with mixed emotions for parents and students. Pride, excitement, anxiety, trepidation, disappointment, love… These emotions color the level to which and how a parent offers support. Let the pride and excitement guide you. Fear and anxiety can lead you astray. Often, all seniors really need is your confidence, a listening ear and an occasional nudge along the way. They will chase their own success.
As we start the college application season for the Class of 2015, our hope for you parents is that this is a joyful time, filled with numerous glimpses of the fine adult your child is soon to become. Share “your hugs, your kisses and your very best wishes”- leave the watermelons and camp stoves at home.
Jennifer K. S. Scott, Interim Director of College Counseling