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After Two 'Practice' Kids, I'm Hoping Third Time's a Charm

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I like having three kids.

They fit nicely into the car. They're the perfect number when going out to dinner. Table for four? And we always have enough people to play board games.

But what I like most about having three -- if I'm perfectly honest -- is that it gives me a chance to correct my prior parenting mistakes. Those countless blunders I made on the older two when I was too firm, too rigid, too narrow-minded, too focused or just too downright missing-the-boat.

Not that I made terrible mistakes with child one or two. I hope not. But they certainly were burdened with my trial-and-error years. And some occasional misplaced focus. What they didn't get -- for sure -- was a father who realized how quickly the parenting merry-go-round comes to an end.

As do the opportunities for imparting some simple lessons.

That explains why child number three -- now a junior in high school -- gets the benefit of a Pop who sees things a little differently. Such was the case the other day when we had a meeting with a college counselor at his high school.

The meeting was part of their annual ritual that kids his age go through, covering the ins-and-outs of all the things these rising seniors need to be focusing on in the coming nine months as they go through the way-too-competitive college search process. I've been through this twice now. And I've been that parent who carried around piles and piles of folders stuffed with information and checklists and things to obsess over. My first two survived that journey quite well, thank you. And what this dad learned was that all of that worrying is over-rated.

Our meeting with his college counselor was a deja vu moment. But this one was with my baby. A hairy-faced baby who -- whether I liked it or not -- was going to be moving from the crib to college dorm life in about 18 months.

We signed a stack of forms -- giving the school permission to send records, transcripts and every other bit of information about his performance during the last few years. We then went over his grades with microscopic precision. I was struck with his instant knowledge of every single grade and stat. This from the kid who still forgets his lunch. We talked about his senior class schedule and strategies for AP classes. How would it look to college admissions? We went over his extracurriculars and service projects and discussed how they'd appear on college applications. What was his approach going to be with ACT and SAT? One? Both? Has he signed up for tests? Does he have a strategy for sending test scores to schools? Has he thought about his essay? Who's going to write his letters of recommendations? Then we started to plot his grades and target test scores on graphs to begin the process of developing a list of colleges -- target schools, reach schools, safety schools, schools, schools, schools.

"You're going to do great with all of this," said the counselor.

My son, a pretty confident young guy, sat there with glazed eyes.

She continued, "So, that pretty much covers all the things you need to be focusing on for the next six months! Anything you want to add to the list, Mr. Higley?"

"Yeah," I said. "There's one thing I'd like to put at the top of the list. It's actually the most important thing."

My son's glazed look now was replaced with fear as he waited for yet one more thing to add to his growing list.

"Have fun," I said. "Have an absolute blast through all of this."

That was the only message I wanted him to have from me. And I wished it was the main thing I had said to the other kids. First and foremost.

"You've worked your tail off to get to this spot," I told him. "Don't forget to enjoy the journey of figuring out how you're going to spend the next four years of your life."

Just have some fun, will ya?

I know. Probably not the top suggestion for parents in any self-help book on getting your kids into college.

But I'm trusting my gut on this one.

And with 18 months left -- and counting -- I'm determined to get some of this parenting stuff right.

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