If your greatest source of stress is that darn college admissions process, be thankful.
Helicopter parents are so last decade. The have now been replaced by snowplow parents, who roll in and smooth everything over for their children. Like calling the professor to complain about an A- (a true story – it happened at BU).
The Neurotic Parent, though still overly involved, does not hover or plow. But I am a control freak when making flight arrangements. I do not trust travel agents because they care mostly about booking Goldman Sachs VPs on flights to Dubai and do not have the patience to spend the day hopping from hipmunk to Expedia to SouthwestAir, looking to save $25 or so. And although my boys are pros at procuring sold-out tickets to Coachella, if I let them reserve their own cross-country flights, they would route themselves through Ibiza. So, for as long as I can read the tiny font on kayak, I will be a Booking Engine Parent.
I generally do a fine job and have even gotten us to Nairobi and the Galapagos using mileage. But I inevitably fail over the holidays.
Here are some helpful tips for completely screwing up your kids’ holiday reservations:
1. Book on the same dates that the entire country is flying. The website Cheapair.com suggests that fliers avoid traveling on December 1 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) and January 5 (the Sunday after Christmas break). Of course, these are the dates that most college kids have to fly because they have good intentions of not missing Monday classes… although they probably will still be in the vacation mode and sleep through them anyway.
The Neurotic Parent technique is to start looking for those return Thanksgiving and winter break flights during the previous April, when the prices are already outrageous. Next step in the process is to decide to game the system and wait until summer. Then in late October, suck it up, accept that the fares will never go down and hastily snap up the last seat on the plane.
2. Believe that the travel dates your kids give you are accurate. Bribe your children with extra legroom if they provide you with correct final exam dates. You will have to text them incessantly for 3-4 weeks before they respond with those dates because it is a real effort on their part to log into their online schedule. Once appropriate flights are booked, be prepared to pay a hefty change fee to leave two days earlier because it turns out that “My last exam is a actually a research paper and I’d rather work on it at home.”
3. Buy into the urban legend that Wednesday is the best day to book flights. Cancel your conference call. Abandon your pilates class. Reschedule your therapist appointment. Then devote a solid block of time each Wednesday morning to booking, canceling (within 24 hours) and re-booking. Wednesday, you see, is supposed to be the primo day for deals. But sadly, Jet Blue, Virgin and American have yet to hear about this legend. Or about the clearing-your-cookies, incognito approach to travel planning.
4. Try to find decent times, short layovers and good seats on reputable airlines. You might hate redeyes or center seats or discount carriers, but 19-year olds can deal. They will even happily fly on airlines called “Spiritually Turbulent” or “No Snacks for You.”
5. Assume that they will get to the airport on time. Most college leave for the airport at the exact minute that they’re supposed to be going through security. So it’s not a great idea to book them on the last flight of the day, even if you have lots of Starwood points.
6. To make flights extra unbearable, forget to remind your kids about the two essential carry-on items: sinus meds and phone chargers. Odds are that they’ll develop a debilitating upper respiratory infection the morning they are supposed to travel. Without Sudafed, which is now harder to purchase than crack cocaine, they will spend six hours feeling as if their heads are about to explode. And assume that they will leave their chargers at school, so you won’t have a clue about when or where they’re landing once they have missed their plane and rescheduled.
Of course, nothing beats the joy of having them home for the holidays, even if you ended up spending $1098 on a roundtrip excursion that usually costs $300. Next year, of course, you’ll think about employing those Booking Engine Parent skills in January. But after checking out the fares, you’ll probably move on to reserving your own off-season package to the Turks and Caicos.
Celebrate the Neurotic Parent’s divorce from typepad! Win a free book…details to come.
Overheard on various college tours:
1. "We had to find an independent college counselor because ours has never heard of Gallatin and thought that Amherst is test optional."
2. "We know a family that sought out a SAT tutor who was also a tennis pro, so their son could practice vocab while on the court ($1000 a session)."
3. Hottest safety: Northeastern – Their co-op program ensures you'll actually get a cool job. Only problem is that it's not a safety anymore.
4. Hottest new career aspiration: "My older child is working for a fully-funded start-up, but I don't really understand what they do."
5. Top new admissions theory: "This will be the easiest year for full-pay kids."
6. Crescendo-ing neurosis: "Darn…My child doesn't have a chance of getting a job with a liberal arts degree and she wants to study Classics at Princeton." (But poetry awards while still in high school are acceptable, especially if the poetry is about Quantum Physics.)
7. Hottest after-hours locale for touring west coast high schoolers: Bushwick
8. Hottest new extracurricular, the ultimate for resume padding: TedXYouth
10. "I interview for Brown; I feel bad about myself because my own resume at age 52 is nothing compared to the resumes of the kids I evaluate."
So, parents, if we haven't given Ted Talks or performed in Latvia by the time we're 50, it's time to admit we're failures. Instead we can now listen to the wisdom of our nation's 17-year olds, who of course, are sharing their expertise for the good of the world, not so they can get into college.
Somebody has finally noticed that I don't have an IT person. Site renovation in progress, but until then, here are some Qs I just received from a reader, along with my answers:
Q: Could it be only me or does it look as if like some of the responses (on this site) appear like left by brain dead individuals?
A: Worse – I think they're brain-dead robots. I'm sure it's because I dissed robotics at some point.
Q: And, if you are writing on other online social sites, I'd like to follow everything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of all of your public sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?
A: Facebook: The Neurotic Parent
Huffington Post: J.D. Rothman
Meanwhile, please excuse our dust.