In the past week I've met a wait-listed law school applicant who can't decide whether a homemade videotape is an appropriate expression of desire or overkill, an otherwise unflappable doctor who is fretting about the prestigious public university that wait-listed his son, and a mother who already has her 10th-grader creating a website that would both interest him and look good on his list of extra-curricular activities.
The law school applicant is in at several terrific law schools, by the way. The doc's son is in at another well-regarded public university. The 10th grader is only in 10th grade. They could be happy, happy and happy -- and yet, they are anxious times three.
As the mom of a happy college junior, I could trot out any number of platitudes that we overuse, it turns out, because they happen to be true. But why would you believe me? I'm one person, three years out, and part of being an anxious app family involves an odd spin on Bob Dylan's advice from our college days: Don't trust anyone over 30. Months out from notification day, that is. You don't want to listen to me because you're sure it's different now, or it's different for your kid, or I am an untrustworthy source who has trouble remembering the facts.
(To prove I don't, credit where it's due: The business about people over 30 actually came, first, from a Berkeley Free Speecher named Jack Weinberg, but that's another story.)
So I have brought in reinforcements. I direct you to this week's, or next week's, or last week's, wedding announcements in the Sunday New York Times. Not the ones between two second- or third-generation investment bankers, one of them cum laude, one of them summa, both of them Ivy League; they're as predictable as your Starbucks order.
No, I direct you to the groom who graduated from a city college, has a spectacularly interesting job, and is pictured, beaming, next to his bride, who also got a great job after attending a school that's on nobody's top 20 list. In the changing world order of wedding announcements, more and more regular folks are sneaking into the listings. And not a single announcement includes a parenthetical listing of the name-brand schools that rejected the happy couple, if in fact they even bothered to apply to those schools in the first place.
What if -- now here's a subversive thought -- what if everyone in the first paragraph grows up to be a compelling human being even if the first two never get off the wait list and the third one gets bored and abandons the website three months in?
Or what if the parents in each case celebrated what is instead of mourning what isn't? I'm not suggesting taking a child out of contention, although some people do just that. But as the process drags on further than it used to, it might be useful to tally up the good news and replace anxiety with relief and even, perhaps, delight.
The late Jay Chiat, a legendary renegade advertising executive, motivated his troops with the slogan, "Good enough is not enough," but he was selling cars and chickens and computers, not launching teenagers into the next stage of their lives. What I love about the wedding announcements -- what I loved long before college appeared on my family's horizon -- is that there are a million stories in the naked city, a million paths to happiness, as many possible combinations of experiences as there are pin-number permutations at all the banks that are making it harder for you to find an education loan.
I'm not saying not to care. Care, indeed, which might mean scrunching up your consciousness, skewing your perspective until the good news looks bigger than the bad or unresolved news. There are some people out there who are facing really bad news, and I'm not going to make them feel any worse by enumerating the ways in which things can go wrong at the end of college-app season. Anyone with an acceptance in hand might want to stare at it, hard, stare at the beloved child just as hard, and imagine, just for a moment, that everything's going to work out fine.
Or at least imagine that an acceptance from whatever you've defined as a better school might not make enough of a difference to keep your family from enjoying the last six weeks of senior year.