I Dropped My Dolly in the Dirt
Based on the photo above, this is what it feels like to send your child off to college.
No, I didn’t Google “images of creepy things.” I snapped this one myself in Paris, spring break 2011. (See August 2020 Everyday Orinda, regarding the futility of worldwide travel with young children — as in, take lots of photos because they won’t remember anything.) This was no staged, artsy French exhibition. Some child had literally dropped a baby doll into a filthy window well.
Our family was waiting in line to see the magnificent stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle. I can’t revisit this memory without recalling how my three adolescent daughters refused to be properly subdued by this glorious display. They struck goofy “Thinker” poses and asked every parent’s most triggering vacation question, “What’s next?” Whoever coined the adage “You can lead the horse to water, but you cannot make him drink,” definitely had experience introducing children to anything culturally enlightening.
My girls were still a long way from college when I captured this unfortunate little baby doll, unaware that it would later portray my parental sentiments. Back then, I presumed my girls would remain my spirited little colts, forever grazing alongside my watchful eye. I was casually aware of them inching toward each new stage of development, but no transition was as distinct and jarring as senior year of high school. No more state-mandated educational path to follow and corresponding extracurriculars. The Yellow Brick Road stopped here. Time to start making their own decisions about their future.
Having lived through this thrice, four times if I count my own pioneer upbringing, life choices are perplexing enough under “normal” circumstances. Imagine tackling this during a pandemic. Just, yikes.
At present, many current seniors and their parent cheerleaders nervously thumb outdated People magazines in life’s dreariest waiting room, stuck in the elongated time span between collegiate applications and responses. At the end of the insufferable waiting period is either the Holy Grail (an acceptance), a popped balloon (resembling their wilted self-esteem after a you-know-what) or, possibly the worst scenario, a spot on a wait list. Deferments and wait lists irk me, taking me back to the frustrating helplessness of childhood, when my mother’s substitute for “No” became the dreaded words “We’ll see.” And deferments? How about your heartthrob stating, “So, it’s very possible we’ll go to prom. But I’m making it quite clear, you were not my first choice.”
This grueling admissions process is why “Participation Trophy World” for older children can come back to bite you. Kids need parents’ support, praise and attention, not an overpriced, cheaply manufactured pieces of junk that some hapless parent volunteer spent precious hours procuring (Is it too obvious I have been this very volunteer, and clearly held onto some hostilities?).
I’m not a total witch; trophies before kindergarten are fine. My youngest was fiercely proud of her swim team “Heat Winner” ribbons, often acquired as the lone contestant. Sad indeed was the day when her older sisters brought that to her attention. But it happens, and it’s why third kids are resilient.
If you don’t believe me about the trophies, go check the dust on your current collection. Not only are these clunky relics bad for the environment, even if college is not their chosen path, eventually your kid will meet a gatekeeper offering no soft landing and no consolation prize. Some heartless person, institution or corporation will discard your innocent baby doll. And there will be no phone call, no email, no respectable intervention any parent can provide.
Perhaps that’s what the iron bars around the doll in the picture above represent: the barriers our seniors build to deflect parents, to de-activate any nascent Lori Loughlin tendencies, as they struggle to think and act for themselves for possibly the first time ever. And the trash and cobwebs? Despite your best efforts to teach them good housekeeping habits, this will totally be their dorm or apartment on move-out day.
Best wishes to our Miramonte and Campolindo seniors. May 2021 yield a few salvaged “old school” moments, where proper campus homage to the Top Dog is rendered. This time next year, you will have burst through those iron bars surrounding your bedroom-classroom, one step closer to becoming your future amazing selves.