A mother discovers the fine art of goading a college applicant

I have always tried to be a good mother, the kind parenting experts would approve of, but sometimes I find that, despite my best efforts, the "parenting at its best" award will never have my name on it.

A perfect example of this is what happened recently during the college application process in the fall of my son's senior year in high school.

I tried to use the same approach that I had taken four years earlier with our daughter, with a set schedule for the applications getting to the guidance department and on to the colleges, but somehow, with him, it was different.

In order to get him to even buy into the concept that we needed to start early, be organized, and get the applications out on a set schedule, I needed to add the carrot of "think how great it will be to get an acceptance early You'll be home free - and even if you don't go to that school, at least you'll know you got in someplace."

That appealed to him. Rob is big on "not having to think about anything," and he perversely liked the idea of being able to watch his friends struggle while he was done with the task.

After much haranguing, I was able to get him to sit down with me and map out a schedule, and even get the first three applications out of the house and

to the guidance counselor. But it wasn't an easy or smooth process, and after some thought, I decided on a plan that I announced to Rob one evening before dinner.

"Applications are on their way for your first three schools," I said, "and I have decided that the next three or four you want to send out are up to you. I will be here for advice, guidance, whatever, but you need to take the ball and run with it. After all, when next year comes, I won't be at college with you, and you'll have to take the initiative to get things done."

I felt good. Parenting done right, I thought.

Was I wrong!

"If you back off, they won't get sent," he observed. "Then it will be on your conscience when they don't get done, and I don't get in and have a lot of schools to choose from."

I said nothing, but thought: "I'll tell my husband at dinner, and he'll agree with me and help Rob see the light."

"They'll never get in. Do you want that on your conscience?" he asked, never missing a beat of eating.

"See," Rob said, "Dad agrees with me. He knows they won't get in if you bail out."

I made a feeble attempt to explain my position to my husband, but to no avail. "All I know is," he replied, "that if you pull out, it's curtains for the applications."

I felt that I had no choice except to continue with the process - but, I said firmly, "No more fooling around. We have a schedule, and we stick to it."

Rob and I had a short meeting after dinner, to review where we were in the process, which schools needed to receive SAT scores, etc. Despite his groans, I was insistent, and we got back on track.

We were, however, thrown off track the next day when one of the first three schools sent a letter announcing his essays were missing from the application. "What essays?" he asked. "I didn't see any essay questions."

"You need to go online and review the application," I said, "and find out what the questions are. Maybe you can use your standard essay."

Several days went by, and it wasn't done. Ever conscious of the schedule, I went online and found, to my dismay, the application required not one, but two essays, and neither topic matched the essay he had already written. He also had a third essay to write for an application that was scheduled to be sent out by the end of the week. My heart sank. He'll never get this done, I thought.

The following morning, we had a small outing planned, but Rob was reluctant to get out of bed. As I stood by his bed, the solution to the essay problem came to me.

"If I let you sleep in, will you write the essays by 3 o'clock?" I asked.

"Five o'clock," he murmured.

"Four o'clock," I countered.

"Four-thirty," he said. Agreed.

Epilogue: The essays were written by the promised time, and two acceptances have come in. Other than a female classmate who was recruited for her sports ability, he was, as far as we know, the first in his class to be accepted by a college or university.

As I looked through the mail the day the first acceptance came in and saw the words "you're accepted" on the envelope, I thought, "I can do this parenting thing. Who needs those experts?"

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to

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