Mama Madison: Thinking about college

I am writing this post from a back row seat on the Van Galder bus (surprisingly swank, internet and all) as I return from my 25th college reunion in Chicago. And yes, I am very glad I went. It felt surprisingly terrific to be back on campus after all these years and check out everything that was different-a fancy new library, a state-of-the-art arts facility, and a gym equipped to train an athlete in just about any Olympic sport.

I also loved being able to revisit the familiar, like having a beer (okay, a couple) in the just-off campus bar where I spent an embarrassing number of hours playing quarters my junior and senior year. And I enjoyed savoring a mocha in the same coffee shop where I'd spent perhaps even more hours drinking regular coffee (I'm not sure mochas had been invented yet) while attempting to negate the effects of "losing" (maybe it was winning?) the drinking game.

But there is no question, the highlight of the reunion this past weekend was attending the official Class of '88 party and catching up with folks -- many close friends, others merely acquaintances and a handful, I'm pretty sure, I'd never before seen in my life--for even just a brief hug. We reminisced about "sleeping out" on the quads in order to be first in line to sign up for classes; these were the days long before on-line registration. We recalled elaborate pranks pulled our freshman year that involved mayonnaise and under garments (don't ask). Most of us could still recall the music we danced to (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, anyone?) on sticky floors at fraternity houses that should have been condemned at the time and are, remarkably enough, still standing.

And while chatting it up with my classmates it struck me why everyone makes such a big deal about the 25th reunion.

Most of us in that room, now in our late 40s, weren't just our same old selves but a little grayer and in need of reading glasses. We were also parents. And is true of so many parents pushing 50, we have kids that are just beginning the journey of choosing a college.

My oldest is sixteen, and assuming all goes according to plan with finals this week, will be a junior in high school next fall. He's entering the year of ACT vs. SAT or both. He needs to start thinking about big schools vs. small schools and urban vs. self-contained campuses. He needs to consider whether he wants to be able to easily come home for an occasional weekend (for hopefully more than just laundry) or whether this is his big chance to explore another part of the country.

As a parent, guiding your child through this process can be absolutely crazy-making. And I've made a promise I will try not to get too wrapped up in the applying-to-college hoopla. There are lots of great choices out there, I remind myself. Don't make this into something bigger than it needs to be.

But this weekend was a reminder that this decision really matters. And not just from an intellectual development or career potential standpoint.

Because while standing there with some of my dearest friends in the world, many that I met the very first week of my freshman year, I realized that in two short years my son will likely be moving onto a dorm floor and meeting the people he will still be laughing, crying and dancing with over 25 years later.

So I guess it's time to jump in to the zaniness. Discussions of college tours, prep classes and "Reach", "Match" and "Safety" schools" are sure to come.

But if I get too caught up, please, in the immortal words of Frankie (the one of "Goes to Hollywood" fame), remind me to, at least occasionally, "Relax."

Or maybe take me out for a game of quarters.

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