Big Announcement!

No, I’m not pregnant, but thanks for asking.

My new book is coming out on October 7!

Cover of The Code, available October 7

Dr. Kate Deming has spent four brutal years working in a Chicago ER, swinging back and forth from tragedy at work to guilt for what she’s missing at home. The prescription is a new job that will allow more time with her growing daughters: an eight-year-old pirate wannabe planning to run away to the high seas, and a twelve-year old expert in eye-rolling and sarcasm who is the star of her middle school’s new code breaking team.

When a sophisticated ransomware attack paralyzes the hospital’s electronic medical record, the hospital pinpoints Kate’s computer as the electronic gateway. She thinks it’s a misdiagnosis until the FBI raids their apartment and arrests her husband, whose home tech support now appears all but benign.

Meanwhile, her daughter’s classmate overdoses to get away from a sextortion scheme that her daughter knows too much about.

Can Kate crack the code before another child gets hurt?

If you’re looking for the paperback, you can order it from your favorite independent bookstore, or from Amazon.

The ebook is available at: kindle, Barnes and Noble, kobo, Apple Books and smashwords, or you can request it from your local library.

If you’re planning to read it, pre-orders are especially useful for helping others find my book.

Thanks for reading!

Back to School Daybook 2022

Outside my window: Darkness (but green.) We had a ton (by Colorado standards) of rain in August and everything is very green. As an attempt to thwart the beetles devouring my roses, I didn’t prune them after they bloomed, so I’m not going to have a second set of blossoms. But the black-eyed Susans are reaching for the sky, and the zinnias and other pretty flowers I put in the herb garden are lovely.

very, very green backyard. It never looks like this in August

In the kitchen: I’m finding a new rhythm. There are only four of us here for the next few weeks (and after that, only three!) Already I’m realizing my recipes are all too big. I have popped a few half-recipes into the freezer, and I’ve figured out how to adjust my pizza dough recipe to make just two large pizzas.

My favorite thing right now is fresh herbs on pizza. (Our favorite: skip the sauce. Just brush the dough with olive oil, sprinkle on herbs from the garden, and top with a grating of parmesan.) Last night’s version: rosemary, thyme and oregano.

kitchen table bouquet of flowers from the garden

With the kids: this is the section formerly known as “In the school room.” They are still in school. I am not, though so far, school and its requisite forms and supplies and schedule are still occupying a large amount of headspace. This year I don’t get to make any of the decision- I just have to keep track of everyone else’s.

In mid-August, Sam drove with the older three to Chicago, where I met them after P’s volleyball tryouts. The family gave Jonah a lovely graduation party. We visited Judy, added some of her furniture to the moving van and drove to Champaign. The best decision we made was hiring two hours of moving help to unload the truck and carry everything up three flights of stairs. We spent two days nesting with Jonah. There is a great Thai restaurant around the corner from his apartment, and a large bookstore a few blocks away. It was a very short, intense and valuable trip. Since our departure, he has had to do lots of adulting (dealing with a gas leak, trying to get his internet set up, finding a car mechanic) and I have had to do lots of Nothing Useful to help him. It’s an adjustment.

grad school kitchen with his bird statutes

Owen has another month here before going back to school. They finished their summer job and now have time to make lots of music and hike with me.

Selfie at an overlook near the beginning of the hike. We didn’t look nearly as fresh at the end!
Owen playing the beautiful piano at Grandma’s senior living home

In the whirlwind that was August, we also moved Mo to college. Surprisingly, everything fit in the car (and more importantly, in her room.) We like her roommate and are excited for all that’s ahead of her! (Unfortunately, she came down with Covid-19 this week and is pretty miserable. Ugh.)

road trip to college
the stunning garden in front of the building where most of Mo’s classes will be

Phoebe has had two weeks of school, three weeks of volleyball practice, two games and a tournament. She is exhausted but is really enjoying volleyball. So far, so good. And we are hugely grateful for that.

In my shoes: I’m still not running, but I’ve been riding our exercise bike a ton, first through the Giro d’Italia, then the Criterium de Dauphine, Tour de France, Tour de France Femmes, and now La Vuelta a Espana. So fun.

Grateful for: It’s very easy when all these major leaps in life stage are happening to see how far we have come, but I am even more grateful for all the healing and risk taking that happened in fits and starts over the past few years, and all the support we received along the way.

Mo, practicing on the school’s concert harp

What I’m reading:

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice. Linda Villarosa’s Under the Skin.

Praying for: Judy. Mandy. Lori. Quick and complete healing for those who are sick. Patience. Good friends for my kids. Hope.

End of School Daybook 2022

The first pink bloom from this peony.

Outside my window: the garden is amazing right now. We had rain last week and a cooler weekend, and everything is acting like it’s England. Just lovely. (Except for the aphids on the roses. Between the aphids and the Japanese beetles, I wonder if it’s time to take the roses out altogether.)

Early June is always a time of great abundance in the garden- not of food, but of flowers- and I love it. We traveled a lot when I was a kid, and I remember my mom saying she didn’t want to travel in June because she’d miss everything in her garden. At the time, I thought she was crazy, but now I understand.

A profusion of purple clematis.

In the kitchen: Part of this June abundance is a profusion of eaters with opinions about what we should be eating (mostly: not leftovers.) This is what my fridge looks like right now.

Refrigerator with mountains of leftovers and no order.

The house is likewise a mess of abundance as the kids are going through luggage brought home from school, seventeen years of school supplies, and old books they want to pass along to make room for new ones. We have no routine yet. We have five drivers with plans they don’t share and only three cars. I proposed a very basic weekly food plan that was received like a deflating balloon. Something has to be done, or I’m going to have to run away to the circus. (Correction… from the circus.)

In my shoes: I had fluid drained from my knee yesterday and almost passed out. The rheumatologist said I must be a “lidocaine super-metabolizer.” Whatever, but next time please put ALL THE LIDOCAINE in there before you stick the big needle in my knee.

There is no photo of this. You’re welcome.

What I’m reading: I’ve been posting lots of book reviews at my other site.

In the school room: We’re done. I have retired. For the ultimate kick in the teeth, Sam and I got Covid-19 the week we were supposed to fly to Ohio for Jonah’s graduation. His roommates’ parents took lots of photos for us and took him out to dinner, but it was lonely and anticlimactic, and I can’t figure out how to turn it into something else.

Our first college graduate with an ornithological anatomy specimen from his lab.

We were out of our isolation period for Mo’s graduation and well enough the next week to host a breakfast for her, so her graduation felt like the real deal.

Proud parents and high school graduate.

I managed to pull myself off the bed for our final week of school, and Phoebe did a great job with her written exams. (These were Charlotte Mason-style exams, in which she answered questions in essay form about what she’d learned, e.g., “Explain the differences between ionic and covalent bonding.”) We finished our seventeen years of homeschooling with a poetry tea. It was lovely, and I had all the feels.

Grateful for: our friends in Ohio who were Jonah’s family for us, especially this hard semester with his broken ankle and our Covid-19.

The village who has helped us educate our kids these many years:

  • Sam’s unwavering support for this work
  • my parents who spent years coming to care for our kids on my work day and later, asking my kids hard questions and listening through all the answers
  • nannies who likewise made it possible for me to continue to work and school
  • my work’s willingness to take a chance on a part-time doctor (a weirdly hard sell)
  • the kids’ godparents, and our friends at church & elsewhere who prayed us through
  • the friends homeschooling and learning alongside us
  • tutors (Latin! Arabic! French!)
  • piano, cello, violin, and dance teachers
  • the Denver Zoo, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanic Gardens, Barr Lake State Park and Bluff Lake Nature Center: places that made our experience so rich
  • soccer, swimming, diving and Robotics coaches who have mentored our kids
  • climate activists who have welcomed our child into their work
  • friends who shared joys, sorrows, books, skills and adventures
  • wise teachers who helped us sort out learning differences and how to accommodate them
  • the writers of the living books who shared their passion and knowledge with us
  • these four kids who made this journey such a joy

I am so grateful.

Four little kids on a blanket.
Four big kids at a bookstore..

Daybook: May 2022

Outside my window: While Phoebe rehearses for an end-of-year choir performance, I’m working at a table in the children’s section of a local library. Outside there is a hands-on garden with large percussion instruments. The children who stroll by, however, are more interested in throwing the wood chips. Inside, there are children explaining bugs and dinosaurs to their parents as if those tired adults have never heard of either before. A mom just trailed by, telling her child, “Okay, but I don’t want to get too many science books.” Maybe she doesn’t know how cool bugs and dinosaurs are.

bookshelves in the children’s section. Not pictured: the cluster of kids playing Minecraft on the computers

In the kitchen: we will be out of the house a lot this week for the aforementioned concerts, but I did make baked French toast from Tieghan Gerard’s lovely cookbook, Half Baked Harvest EVERY DAY. I would loan you my copy, but I drooled on all the pages.

In the schoolroom: We have been passing back and forth lots of “last day of ______” texts. Jonah finished college classes (graduation in 10 days,) Mo just took her last community college class for high school (graduation in 2 weeks,) and Phoebe finished her math and Barton (spelling and reading for dyslexia.) We have two weeks of chemistry, economics, literature, and French left. Poor Owen just got out of Covid-jail at college and still has a full month of school to go.

kitchen table chemistry experiment

In my shoes: My knee has stalled my couch-to-5K program while I wait for an MRI and make decisions about what to do. The last time my surgeon operated on my knee, it lasted 11 years, so if that’s where we are headed, I am in good hands.

Grateful: We just made a short trip to Ohio for Jonah’s research presentation. I loved watching his passion in action and how he worked the room. He’s going to be a great teacher. His love for all things birds feels like a perfect extension of his four year-old love for dinosaurs.

Jonah being professorial at his research presentation

We also spent time with Jonah’s godfamily, and that was a treat in itself. They recommended a local bookstore, Jonah recommended another, and we spent two afternoons inhaling booksmell and following rabbit trails on the shelves. What a gift.

Mo (with bookstore haul,) Phoebe and Clyde (remember him?)

Praying for: lots of medical needs right now, friends who are mourning, and relief from pandemic fatigue. Energy to finish the year well.

hooray hooray it’s spring!

The birds are back. Yesterday they started singing at 6:40. Everything was silent, silky darkness and then all of a sudden, multiple birds woke up and started to chatter. Our tulips are up, the daffodils and crocuses are abloom, and the earth smells fresh and new.

The winter wasn’t even that long, but my winter habits were dragging on. I needed a reset, and this week I made one in the form of renewed goals (a couch-to-5K program, a better writing plan, less time on my phone) and spring routines (hanging laundry outside, after-dinner walks or street volleyball.)

We are looking forward toward graduations (two of them!) and lots of changes ahead. I’ve been homeschooling for seventeen years, and it will end in May. I’m sure there will be both mourning and celebrating ahead, but right now the ending feels good and right. A job well done that I can be grateful for and lay aside.

lesson on gastropods, 2006

engineering lesson, 2008. (the best engineer=the only one wearing safety goggles correctly)

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/8019/7309988416_9469483dcb.jpg&quot; width="500" height="375" alt="Morning work">
morning work, 2012
table time, 2014
homeschool P.E., 2016
poetry tea, 2019

bookstore run, 2021

Daybook: mid-February 2022

Outside my window: blue skies, white snow. All our sidewalks are clear- I have a new obsession with the importance of clearing the snow/ice.

In the kitchen: this has been a bad week in the kitchen. I have a renewed appreciation for the importance of crisis meals sent by friends. Thanks, Renee, for sending pizza and salad on Wednesday (it was delicious!)

In the school room: Meh. This hasn’t been a banner week for school. Mo has classes at the community college and is doing research on the Ludlow Massacre for National History Day. I introduced her to the Library of Congress’s online searchable newspaper archive, Chronicling America, which has been huge for me in my own historical research.

Phoebe and I are discussion Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth (so good!) and working on distance=rate x time problems for math. (Two trains leave Chicago traveling opposite directions. One travels at 150 mph, and the other…) We are still working our way through the Barton curriculum, she has French tutoring with Sam’s cousin Laura, and she’s reading Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful book, Brown Girl Dreaming.

All right, maybe school is going fine. (Writing it down always makes me feel better about it.)

Here’s a link to more information about Doughnut Economics.

On the sofa: Jonah called from school (in Ohio) last Saturday morning. He was outside his dining hall on the way to the gym when he slipped on a patch of ice. He told me his ankle was broken and an ambulance was on its way. Sam and I sat biting our nails while we waited for an update, which came from the ER doctor an hour later. “I don’t see him getting out of this without hardware,” he said. Thank God for his godmother who was at the ER two hours later (after anesthesia and reduction of the dislocation.) Her family cared for him until we could get him a flight home the next day. He had surgery Wednesday and has enough hardware in his ankle to set off all the TSA’s machines. Due to his inability to bear weight for 4 weeks and his upcoming spring break, he’ll be home for a bit.

Grateful: So much. For Jonah’s godfamily. For the quick reduction of his ankle fracture, so that we could go quickly to surgery, and for his awesome surgical/anesthesia team. For food from friends. For good books and bad snacks and the pianist at the children’s hospital whom I never saw but who played beautiful music that eased my anxiety across the atrium. For our neighbors who rallied to loan us a shower chair, a wheelchair and a wheelie knee scooter. For my colleagues who stepped up at the last minute to take care of my patients. For the buckets and buckets of prayers offered on Jonah’s and our behalf.

For our friend David, who passed away this morning. He was a lovely person and will be missed.

On my mind: While we sat there for hours at the hospital, we watched other families come and go. Many of them were clearly pros at this. Knowing how hard things would be post-op, they knew to ask for the waiting area with the benches, and pillows and blankets so they could sleep while their child was under anesthesia. Some brought noise-blocking headphones and laptops and worked from the surgical waiting room. They had wheelchairs loaded with medical records and spreadsheets to keep track of everything their children have been through. I was again aware of how charmed our child-rearing has been, and while far from smooth, it has not involved major hospitalizations or surgeries. How blessed we have been.

Praying for: Mary, Dan and family. Jonah. Mandy. Judy. Roman & family. Those professional parents who have lost count of their children’s hospitalizations and surgeries. For eyes to see my blessings and the will to count them.

Daybook: Holding things lightly

Outside my window:

fiery feathered clouds

The sky has been really beautiful. I’ve been walking a lot and trying to notice.

In the kitchen:

watercolor painting (unfinished) by Phoebe on the kitchen counter
peppermint bark (unfinished) by Mo in the fridge

In the school room:

We are finishing up the semester. Today there was a field trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Owen and I took a walk. They told me about Walter Benjamin’s essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935.) We talked about Charlotte Mason’s homeschool philosophy. And Owen told me I had prepared them well for a college literature class. (There are not enough heart emojis in the world to put after this statement.)

Grateful:

dragon sculpture at the Denver Zoo’s Zoo Lights

We have a few things planned this month, though we’ve already had a cancel or reschedule a few of them. Phoebe, Sam and I made it to Zoo Lights two weeks ago during the Members’ nights. It was warm and not crowded. The porcupine was super active, and the llamas and elephants were all out. It was lovely.

The Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light is on the schedule, as is the Lion King at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (these are the tickets we bought as a family Christmas gift 2 years ago!) Our rescheduled date for the Wonderbound’s December performance, Winterland, is this week. And this weekend was Mo’s Nutcracker, which was delightful. It sounds like a lot, but it works out to one outing a week. The rest of the month we are watching Christmas movies together and playing games. (If you’re looking for suggestions, check out Connie Willis’s list of Christmas movies at the end of her book of stories, A Lot Like Christmas.)

Mo as Cake Pop in The Nutcracker

On my mind:

When my kids were little, I had a lot of plans. Not just long-term plans for what I wanted our life to look like, but also small plans. When we finish x, we move on to y. A lot of that was survival as a mom surrounded by small people, but much of it was an illusion of control. I might had control over where all the bodies were at a given moment, but I never had control over what my kids learned from our time together.

Both our college students were home for a week at Thanksgiving. Double bonus, they’ll both be home over Christmas. As they’re growing and reflecting back on our years together, I get to hear more of what they really thought as we learned together. I get to share the Why behind the How. Sometimes, it worked out the way I wanted it to. Sometimes, it backfired.

Anyway, these next few weeks I am trying to hold things lightly. Plans, secret hopes, get togethers: they may happen, they may not. I am trying to have open hands, so that I can receive what comes rather than looking for something different. And I am trying to be open to letting go of my expectations.

Praying for:

People to choose life by getting vaccinated.

me in PPE

This was a hard week at the office. We have enough PPE now, but not enough staff to take care of everyone who is sick. There were lots of people with COVID and not enough mAb to go around.

It doesn’t matter if you have COVID or knee pain; you’re going to have a hard time getting in for care. It didn’t have to be this way, and I am discouraged.

All right, friends, that’s all for now. I wish you a cup of tea and a good book to keep you company.

Come visit The Well

I have a proposal: let’s stop giving hospital beds to adults who chose not to receive coronavirus vaccinations.

We can still provide emergency care, but if a person comes into the ER with Covid, meets the criteria for hospitalization but has chosen not to receive the vaccine, let’s take them seriously and accept their choice. They have ceded their right to hospital beds that will require a sacrifice from the health care workers caring for them and the vaccinated individual denied the bed that they are filling. They can go home with self-administered medications, and an ICU bed will remain available for someone with heart failure or a life-threatening accident. 

“You can’t be serious,” my husband said, when I told him my idea. “You are really tired.”

I was serious. I still am. And, yes, I am exhausted.

I’m over at The Well today, talking about the thousands of unnecessary deaths the U.S. has witnessed since the beginning of the pandemic. Come check out my proposal.

Daybook: mid-October

Out my window: our maple tree is in its full glory. I love this tree.

A red maple tree against the blue sky.

In the kitchen: Mo made me this fantastic birthday cake topped with maple leaves. We were watching Little Women (2019) yesterday, and I requested Marmee’s cake. (I don’t know what flavor hers was, but mine was carrot.)

Marmee’s cake
My cake

Also, Sam made these amazing beef satay skewers from one of Martha Stewart’s cookbooks. The rest of the week I’m planning red lentil dahl with naan, brown butter and butternut squash pasta with sage, sheet pan chicken thighs with cauliflower and purple potatoes, and frozen pizza.

In the garden: Last week there was a freeze alert. The clouds moved in, six snowflakes swirled around without actually touching the ground, and Phoebe and I ran outside to bring in the last of the tomatoes and herbs. The kitchen was covered in rosemary, sage, chives and thyme. Bunches of rosemary are hanging in Phoebe’s room to dry, and I had trays of them in the oven. Then Sam turned on the oven to make the satay. Three minutes later the whole house smelled of rosemary. Anyway, today I have to crush all the dried herbs into jars to reclaim the counters.

Beets, rosemary and a random medical journal I should have moved before taking the photo.

Pro tip: fresh herbs in flower bouquets smell amazing.

Fresh bouquet of zinnias, oregano, rosemary and basil.

In the school room: Mo is putting the finishing touches on her essays for the Common App. Colorado has a free day (this year, it’s been extended to three days) for applying to the state colleges. It’s a good nudge to get the application done early. We are reading Annie Dillard for English and have moved into the 19th Century in US History.

This week’s topic in 8th grade Economics is inflation. Yesterday we tried to find the exact items included in the Consumer Basket of Goods, which is surprisingly hard to find. Phoebe’s going to make her own basket of “essentials” and compare prices from three months ago. We will use this same basket later when we talk about purchasing power parity.

This week’s Chemistry includes Nova’s Beyond the Elements, hosted by David Pogue. We’ve also been reading Sharon Creech’s lovely One Time together.

We also have lots of volleyball on the schedule this week.

Phoebe on her knees, receiving a serve.

On my reading table: In addition to the above school books, I’m reading two (as yet) unpublished novels for fellow writers and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Not the Duke’s Darling. I just finished Margaret Mizushima’s seventh Maddie Cobb novel, Striking Range. So good.

On my mind: I’ve been working hard on an essay about the idea of “American freedom” and its effect on the pandemic.

Grateful for: friends loving on my kids who are far away. So many birthday messages (thank you!) Miles on my feet. Snuggles with my kids at home. Sam (a million times, Sam.) Our mental health team. All the folks at church who are putting our youth space together.

We went to Wonderbound’s October ballet, Penny’s Dreadful, last Friday. Wonderbound is a local dance company known for their collaboration with other artists and their contemporary choreography. We love their shows. They bought a new performance space last year, and it was set up as a café in Paris. The ballet was a vampire story. I don’t even like vampires, but I loved the show, and we had a great night.

Two masked girls waiting for the show to start.

Praying for: friends with big decisions on their plates. That my kids would know how much they are loved. My aunt. Those who work, or watch, or weep this night.

Ten Tips to Help your Homeschooled Student Apply for College

September has been the month of college. We moved Owen into their dorm in Chicago, and Sam and I have been working with Mo on applications.

We look significantly older than the last time we sat on this quadrangle.

Thirty years ago my parents steered me toward a small liberal arts college, but what did they know? I thought I knew everything at 18 and chose a state school across the country because a) it was really far away and b) it offered me a full scholarship. I never considered the similarities between that school and the university down the road I had soundly rejected, though I could articulate clearly the reasons why University Down the Block was not right for me. I’m not sure if visiting State School Across the Country would have made alarm bells ring for me, but certainly a semester of classes did the trick. During my freshman year there, I applied to five completely different schools, abandoned my scholarship, and ended up at a much smaller liberal arts college that was a great fit for me.

So you can imagine my great apprehension about my kids’ applying to college as homeschoolers. This seems silly to me in retrospect, since I applied to nine colleges myself and then to medical schools three years later. I should be an ace application coach. But this felt different, because we didn’t have the high school application machine behind us.

Mo is my third college applicant, and I have a few suggestions for how you as a parent can make your child’s application process smoother.

One: Keep good records all the way through high school, including book lists.

Not every school requires this, but some colleges want a detailed list of the classes you offered at home and the books you studied. This blog was my secret weapon, but if you don’t have years of curriculum blogging to turn to, you can look back to your school planner/calendar. Our library keeps a running list of all the books we’ve checked out over the years (happily without an asterisk on every book that we turned in late.) If you haven’t kept good records so far, be kind to your future self and start now.

A screen capture of our list of library books from last November.

Your child should be keeping a list of their volunteer engagements, awards,
speaking opportunities, honor societies, quiz bowl championships, etc. This list 
will be helpful for several purposes:

·      The adults who have agreed to write your student’s recommendation letters will need the details in order to highlight your child’s strengths.

·      This will be invaluable to your student in writing down all their accomplishments for school and scholarship applications.

Two: Location, location location.

Our one rule for our kids’ college search has been to choose a school where we have someone we we can call to sit with them in the emergency room until we can get there.

This rule led Jonah to an excellent school that has been a great fit and is 10 minutes from his godmother.

This rule led Owen to an excellent school in Chicago where we have both family and dear friends.

This rule helped Mo’s list of zero schools expand to eight colleges in five cities. The amount of mail my kids get from colleges is overwhelming. Mo didn’t have any idea where to start looking, but Google did the work for her when she put “college in _______ with dance and math majors” into the search bar.

Three: Don’t let finances determine where you apply.

Finances come later, after your student has been accepted.

I had the misconception that we would only be able to afford a public state college. I’m not convinced that piecing together twenty small scholarships to cover a big bill is worth it, but the extra financial resources of private colleges/universities changed the financial equation for us.

Jonah got into several liberal arts colleges we considered more or less equivalent in quality, cost and prestige, but using the same data, they calculated our financial aid completely differently. I have no doubt that he ended up at the right school, but we almost didn’t apply there because I thought the cost would be prohibitive.

Four: As much as possible, use the Common App.

Remember when every college had its own application? Me too. The good news is that many colleges have come together to streamline the application process. The Common App allows your student to fill in all the demographic and school information once online, and send later it to as many colleges as they desire. The Common App includes a common essay, with a variety of prompts to choose from. Alas, individual colleges still have individual fees for applying. That part didn’t change.

Five: Consider using supplemental classes or test scores to help standardize your child’s application.

While a huge benefit of homeschooling is the individuality of our kids’ educations, this must be hard for colleges to interpret. Does “Alternative linguistic structure in creative writing” mean my child taught themselves full Elfin grammar from the Silmarillion and wrote a 300-page epic fantasy fan fic novel in Elfin, or does it mean they made captions for four memes that were popular on Twitter? I say, put it all on the transcript, but prepared to include in some detail what that meant for your kid. (See #1 above.)

If your kid has a strong traditional academic background as well, be sure to highlight it. Community college coursework, summer classes at your local college, and nationally standardized exams are helpful to schools trying to understand where your child fits academically. I’m not talking about just the ACT and SAT. AP exams and the National Latin Exam would work for this, too.

Six: Start thinking early about the application essay(s).

The Common App essay prompts are released in late summer and are good topics for early fall writing. The application essay is your child’s opportunity to show off their special interest in medieval armor, African dance, or matrices. Of course the essay should be well written and comply with the word-count guidelines.

We’ve gotten mixed feedback from friends/teachers my kids asked to read their essays. Advice leaned toward writing a generic, self-aggrandizing essay that highlighted the child’s academic strengths. But the schools my kids were most excited about asked questions that encouraged creativity. The schools that accepted them quickly and gave them the most scholarships were the schools for which my kids took risks in their essays. If I were reading thousands of college application essays, I would certainly notice the ones that demonstrated an unusual interest or sense of humor about a universal experience.

Many schools have essay requirements above and beyond the Common App essay. One is often some variation of, “Tell what aspects of our school make us your ideal college.” Rather than rolling your eyes at this one, use it to prod your kid to look beyond the shiny brochure that came in the mail to consider the school’s unique strengths or weaknesses. As we did the research for this with Owen, it became abundantly clear that a school high on their list would be a terrible fit.

If you’re looking at schools early enough, you may find essay prompts that work for multiple schools. These are the supplemental essays about the applicant. “Tell us something you are passionate about and that your application would be incomplete without mentioning.” Save time and choose to write these essays instead of ones that might work for only one school.

Seven: Get help with essay mentoring if you need it.

If coaching is writing is not your strength as a parent, or your parent/child relationship is too strained right now to do this, I encourage you to outsource your essay coaching. While putting themselves on paper for strangers to read may seem like the biggest hurdle, in reality our kids might have a harder time putting themselves into writing for us. The dance of self-revelation is a delicate one, and you might not be the best coach at this time for your kid.

Bravewriter.com offers college essay writing, as does the Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop. Perhaps there is a writers’ collective near you that offers in-person or online coaching, or a friend your child sees as an ally.

Eight: Early Decision and Early Action are different beasts. Early Decision allows a student to apply to only one college early (usually around November 1,) and if they are accepted, they are committed to that school even before seeing the financial aid package.

Early Action, which is not offered at many schools, allows a student early consideration of their application. They may apply to multiple other schools for Early or Regular Decision, and they do not have to commit to a school until the regular deadline in the spring (after financial aid has been awarded.)

We had good luck with Early Action for Owen. I think it made their application stand out in a year with record college admissions. Being admitted early also meant that the school began considering them for merit-based aid early, while there was still money to be spent.

 

Nine: Consider visiting a few schools at some point, but don’t make this the pinnacle of your process.

With Jonah, we visited a few schools in the fall of senior year. This backfired, as those became the only schools where he could imagine himself. Then, when those weren’t the schools he got into or we could afford, he felt disappointed and stuck. We finally visited his most affordable choice at the end of April, and he found his people within ten minutes of arriving on campus. It all worked out, but I wished we had been more strategic in visiting categories of schools instead of particular favorites.

Owen had a chance to visit two large state schools, Jonah’s small college, and a mid-sized urban private school before applying. We talked about these as prototypes rather than specific college options. We had plans to visit Owen’s top two or three choices before making a decision, but COVID made all college visits virtual which wasn’t helpful.

For Mo, we made a list based on location and her unusual choice of major (see #2.) We plan to wait and see where she gets in, what her financial aid looks like, and the state of the pandemic before visiting her top choice(s).

Ten: Most importantly, keep college in perspective.

College is not the end point of education. College does not define a person’s worth. Having a college degree does not make someone educated. It does not guarantee kindness, happiness, or meaningful work.

Our kids have internalized pressure that Sam and I never intended them to feel, and it has caused them a world of hurt. Make sure your teenager has no opportunity to misinterpret your enthusiasm for the next step of their schooling for a statement about their worth as a human.

A windy day in the windy city.