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Enough already on college talk

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College searches

SO OVER IT College searches can get pretty tiring for the younger siblings on the sidelines. (Illustration:

My older daughter is in the home stretch of high school. Senior year, college applications finished. Frantic scrambling to document every volunteer hour, every club participated in, thankfully over. Essays written, revised and revised again. “Send” button hit, several times.

For two years (or was it 17?), college has been an ongoing conversation for all of us. Studying for the tests, prepping for the tutors, gathering advice from counselors and friends, researching requirements and campuses. It all came to a head this fall, when much of our family time devolved into nagging – my daughter nagging me, me nagging my daughter. And, finally, my daughter saying, “College is ALL anyone talks about!”

Through it all, my younger daughter, a high school freshman whose radar doesn’t so much include a blip of her own thoughts on college right now, has listened. Mostly quietly, until now.

It hit during the long Thanksgiving week of family time, on a morning that included more waiting for straggling cousins than we anticipated. The senior was visibly sinking in the midst of a conversation with my dad, grandfatherly and smiling and proud, asking what she deemed too many questions. And the freshman finally lost it.

“Okay, can we not have the college conversation now?” she said, spiraling into a hangry rant while sitting at Tiny’s with her sister, grandfather and me, waiting for the missing family. “I mean, we get it. Lucy, you want to go to [one school]. Mommy, you want her to wait and see. We all know where everybody is on this. It’s just the truth, and we don’t need to talk about it anymore.”

That’s when I pulled out my phone and started taking notes, as is my knee-jerk when I can’t help thinking, ‘This is going to make a great story.” In retrospect, so unhelpful. The senior rolled her eyes and looked the other way, and the freshman said with a simper, “Write all you want about this. I want everyone to know!” (I call that one Ramona the Pest, after the Beverly Cleary character who torments her older sister. I call her Ramona not because she’s inordinately annoying, but because when she does get a little bit pesky, she does it with such genuine glee. On this morning, finally telling us all what she thought, she was gleeful.)

Everything is so all-encompassing with the first. Every step, every stage. Of course we still worry about the younger ones. Will they be sad when their older sibling leaves? Will they fill the silence left in the older sister’s wake? Will they be overwhelmed? Lonely? It’s just that those questions are sort of secondary to the big one: Where is my first child going to college? Sorry, younger siblings.

One friend said her still-in-high-school younger daughter felt so intensely scrutinized when her sister left home, making her an only child, that she started inviting friends over for dinner every night. She couldn’t stand the pressure that all the dinner table questions focused on her, cringing at the attention that defaulted to her in her older sibling’s absence.

My younger child, however, is a little more outspoken. I decided this was the moment to ask exactly how she was feeling about her older sister getting ready to leave for college. “You know how I feel,” she said, all big eyes and smirky grins.

Oh my. “Well does it bother you that so much of our attention is going to college and your sister?”

“I don’t care about the attention,” she said. “Whatevs. It’s just how much we talk about it nonstop, all day, morning, after school, dinner, after dinner. We realize where she wants to go to school. She does not need to say it millions of times a week. And then you say, ‘Let’s just wait and see,’ and she says, ‘I don’t want to just see, I like it there,’ and you say, ‘That’s fine, but we’ll wait,’ and she says, ‘I’m not waiting,’ and it just goes on and on. What-ev-er.”

“How can we make this better for you?”

“Stop talking about it. It’s annoying.”

“Do you think you might be excited and talking about it all the time when you are looking at schools?”

“Hashtag, don’t think so.” (Sorry, but that’s actually what she said.) “Also, buying all the college stuff. You’re not even going there yet. Chill.” And that’s how a 14-year-old copes with the college talk – and keeps her family in line.

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