I took a picture of family game night before as realized we are coming to the end of family game night. I think we are entering the doom-and-gloom phase of parenting a teen because my older son is spending so many hours studying.

I started out, when he was one year old, being certain that he’d go to some high-flying school and be academically great.

People tell me parenting is the slow painful process of realizing your kids will not live out the dreams you have for them. My process of realization in that department was not slow. Thought it was painful: he got an Asperger’s diagnosis at age two, along with failure to thrive. And we had to force feed him to keep him from being tube fed.

So early on I accepted that he would be whoever he is going to be, and I’m just happy he’s eating. Then, somewhere between me pulling him out of school and me announcing my kids are curriculum-free, my son decided he wants to be a scientist and he wants to go to a top school for science.

He likes test taking. He thinks it’s fun.

Which gets me to right now. Hours and hours past the end of game night. On the floor of the living room, with books piled everywhere. Some people look at porn when their kids go to sleep. I look at college admissions guides.

I want to be able to help him, especially because there is no school mapping things out for him, so I feel like I need to compensate for that. But I don’t want him to know how much I’m reading about it – how much planning I’m doing. Because I don’t want him to feel pressure. I’m torn between making sure I don’t hold him back with my personal hatred of schools and tests, and making sure I don’t push him too hard with my obsessive focus on a long-term goals.

So I have my stacks of books and I’m reading The College Hook: Packaging Yourself to Win the College Admissions Game. The book basically says that freshman year of high school is when you start packaging yourself for schools. (Note: in the rest of this post, and maybe in the rest of my life,  “schools” means schools way too competitive for me to ever have thought of applying to when I was his age)

The way the book tells kids to package themselves is to start acting like an adult. The book authors don’t come out and say that, but that’s what they’re implying. You get a day job – one of those minimum wage, boring-as-hell jobs to show you are responsible. And you get an internship, like working at a lab, or working on a concert tour or designing shopping centers. Whatever you can get with your parents connections to show you are privileged ambitious.

And you decide what you want to do with your life and start doing it so that the schools feel like they are accepting a student with vision and drive and direction when they accept you.

That makes sense to me, because it’s not like kids have tons of great insight when they are 22 that they don’t have when they are 15.  Kids have enough information about themselves to give life a try.

Kids can go to Sokanu and find out what career you should be doing, and try it, and if they don’t like it, try another career. You can do that at any age, but what do you gain by waiting? As far as I can tell, nothing.

It’s weird, because I expected to think the college application process would be despicable and totally outside of anything I’d want to be doing with my life. But actually shepherding a kid through the process by furtively planning like an insane person is right up my alley.

And announcing that it’s never too early to pick a career seems fine as well. Because if childhood is about making mistakes, then the more seriously you take your actions, the more you learn from your mistakes.

Does that mean I will put more pressure on my son? Probably. But this might be the last time I admit to it.