by Pat Hart
I just completed the process of getting my son into "the college of his choice" of which the main activity was to travel hundreds of miles and participate in the hour-long college tour. This was the basis of our most expensive decision of our lives and it was made by a 17-year old boy.
The college tour scene is a dysfunctional family parade and as writer I loved it. It seemed there was always, regardless of the city or state, some variation on the following cast of characters:
Rape Mom: Every stairway, lonely library stack, or thicket was under suspicion. This woman could spot a blind spot in the campus video surveillance so small a pair of Pekinese couldn't breed in private. And the poor daughter, who's mere presence was apparently enough to transform mild mannered college boys into rutting satyrs, was usually too mortified to raise her head and look around.
Cell Phone Dad: Really, we saw more than one of these guys who took calls and clicked away on his blackberry through the whole tour. Sometimes Mom (or wife number two) and child would wait for him as the tour moved on, sometimes not.
Stump the Guide Dad: This guy would always have lots comments and would eventually ask a totally inane question that would cause the guide (usually a kid) to stare at the man for a very long beat while the rest of us wonder "Why? Why? Why?" and his kid tries to slither under a concrete pad.
Cajolers: These parents have a kid that they've been begging to eat, sleep, study, breathe, since the day he was born and now they're doing back flips trying to get the kid to pick a college. They're often from some place really far away and this school is extremely inconvenient to visit but it's the only one the kid expressed any interest in at all. These parents love everything and are trying to beam their enthusiasm into the kid by nodding, smiling, and pointing at anything that the kid might deign to like. "Look, a low cement wall, you could grind your skateboard here!"
The Whole Fam Damily: This is a crowd of no less than 6. Two parents, one Nana or Papa, two siblings (one bored teenager/one annoying ten year old), and the poor kid that's looking for a college.
My advice to all parents on these tours is to not speak to anyone, anyone--your child, another parent, the guide and especially not to any of totally cool college the students on campus. And, if you really love your child you will somehow manage to become invisible during the tour but readily available when it comes time to buy the very expensive logo wear, which they will not wear unless they select that particular college and only after you send in the housing deposit. (PS: you, your husband and other children are expressly forbidden to don any college logo wear, ever.)