Do you remember when you were 18-years-old? Like most young adults, you were excited to graduate from high school, you desperately wanted your independence, and you couldn’t wait to start the next phase of your life (i.e. college, trade school, military, full-time job, etc.). If college was in your future plan, you did a lot of research online and you visited several different schools to explore and evaluate each college or university to help you choose your ultimate college destination.
As a mom of triplets, we visited 10 different colleges and universities during their junior and senior years of high school. Big 10 universities, mid-size colleges, and small private institutions. So many choices, so much to consider. Our boys are not only brothers, but they are best friends. From elementary school through high school, they had the same close friends, they played the same sports, they even worked together at Jimmy Johns. Would they go to the same college too? Or, would this be the first time they chose different paths?
Penn State was the first big university they visited during their junior year in high school. This college visit set the bar high as we had a personalized tour with the head of both the engineering and business schools. We also attended a white-out football game (at night) against Ohio State. The campus was electric that weekend and the boys were captivated from the start. Ultimately, they decided to apply to four colleges including Pennsylvania State University, University of Kentucky, University of Missouri, and University of Iowa. They submitted their applications in early September and they received their acceptance letters to every college except Penn State within 30 days of submission. They waited a grueling four months before receiving their acceptance letter to Penn State at the end of January. While they were ecstatic to get accepted to their first choice college, they were selected to start their college journey in the summer session vs. the fall semester. Suddenly, they were faced with some harsh realities. If they chose Penn State, they would have to start college in July, and miss their last summer together with their friends before they all started college in the fall. If they chose Penn State, they would be 10 hours from their family and their home (we live in Illinois). If they chose Penn State, could they be their own person, their own identity, and not just one of the triplets? Or, for the two boys that are identical twins, just one of the twins? So many choices, so many considerations. Ultimately, each of the boys came to the same conclusion independently and they decided to attend Penn State together.
For those of you who have moved your child into college and said that last goodbye (with multiple hugs and lots of tears), you can empathize with me when I say that doing this times 3 was incredibly difficult. I cried the entire ride home (remember we live 10 hours from Penn State) and for days and weeks afterwards. I literally left a piece of my heart at Penn State that day. I felt completely lost and alone. For 18 years, my whole world revolved around my boys as my life was filled with hustle and bustle related to their school and activities, and then poof, they are college kids doing what college kids do. Loving life and living it!
The first 6-week summer session of college flew by in a flash and before I realized it, the boys were back home for a short two-week break before the fall semester started up again. They took two classes, achieved strong grades, made some new friends, and figured out their way on their new college campus. Logan and Braden, our identical twins, roomed together during this summer session while Jake roomed with a new friend, who ironically is also a triplet. Everything seemed to be going great. A few weeks later, we drove the boys back to college and we said our tearful goodbyes once again. Only this time, I’d see the boys more often as we had already planned to attend parents weekend and two football games within the first two months.
Things were different for the fall semester. To start, Logan and Braden had chosen to room with different people so that they could be their own person, their own identity. Like most college kids, it’s a crapshoot on whether you connect with your first roommate. Logan’s roommate was a perfect fit for Logan, someone who helped him get out of his comfort zone, while Braden’s roommate was nice, but not a good fit for him. Luckily, Jake continued to room with the same person from his summer session. Even though they had different rooms and different roommates, they lived in the same building so they were just an elevator ride or stair climb away from each other. While they saw each other every day, it was a big change to live separately, at least bigger than we realized at the time. The next change they faced was related to their classes and more importantly their grades. They are pretty smart guys and got good grades in high school. Like I mentioned, they continued to excel in class during their summer session, but things were different during their fall semester. Professors were tough, classes were hard, and good grades didn’t come as easily. For the first time in their life, they were getting grades that were unlike anything they earned before college. Let’s just say, it took them off their game. Speaking of game, they are seasoned lacrosse players, and they had their heart set on playing club lacrosse at Penn State. Even though they had two really strong try-outs, they didn’t make the team. They were absolutely crushed. This created the ultimate trifecta (at least for two of them); less than stellar roommate experience (remember Logan and Braden are identical twins and rely on each other more than they think), first experience with poor grades, and then they were denied the sport they had been so passionate about for more than 8 years.
It was 30 days into their fall semester and I got the phone call from Logan and Braden saying they wanted to transfer schools. I was dumbfounded. Why would they want to leave the school they had such a strong connection to since their junior year in high school? I mean, they literally wore Penn State clothes every day for the last two years of high school. I tried every which way to Sunday to try to convince them to stick it out for one year. They could transfer if they didn’t like it after their freshman year. After several challenging conversations and interactions, I finally caved and we started college visits for a second time. This time, Logan and Braden narrowed it down to Mizzou and Iowa, and they ended up attending and completing their spring semester at Mizzou. Once again, they lived together, they took the same classes, and they even played club lacrosse. But, something still didn’t seem right. Let’s call it mom’s intuition, at least for now. Fortunately, Jake was thriving at Penn State, doing well in school, hanging with friends, and playing club lacrosse. Due to COVID-19, the boys on-campus experience ended abruptly, and they all moved back home to finish their semester online. My heart was full again having them all home together.
In mid-April, not surprising, Logan was the first one to share that he did not want to go back to Mizzou. In hindsight, I think Logan thought that the things he didn’t like about Penn State would be different than Mizzou, but the reality is that they were exactly the same. Logan doesn’t regret his decision to go to Mizzou for a semester as several good things happened as a result. He discovered what he really wants for his college experience, he chose a major to study, he’s developed his resiliency muscle, and now he has the confidence to face and overcome adversity. I’d say that’s a huge win in my mom book! After exploring his options, Logan has decided to return to Penn State this coming semester for his sophomore year in college.
So, what will Braden do? It took Braden a little longer to figure out what he wanted to do. If you’re a middle child like Braden (and me too!), you’ll appreciate when I say that Braden just wants to be acknowledged, accepted, independent, and most importantly loved. Sometimes middle children have to try the unpopular, difficult, hard path to get to the right destination for them. It’s not right, wrong or indifferent. It just is, and that’s OK! Typically, this path is the way people like Braden find their self-confidence, self-love, and self-acceptance because they have turned over every rock and they have made the decision on their own terms. Braden and I recently did our third round of college visits together. After evaluating his options, Braden has also decided to return to Penn State this coming semester for his sophomore year in college. Again, not surprising. Remember that mom’s intuition I mentioned earlier? Like Logan, Braden has no regrets, as he’s also learned a lot about himself and what he wants for his future. I couldn’t be more proud of both Logan and Braden for following their heart.
Now is the time to explore the fork in the road as it often leads to places that are better than you ever imagined. I tell my boys all the time that everything happens for a reason. We may not understand it at the time, but when the time is right, the message will be clear. While I’m a mom of 3 amazing boys who just happen to be born on the same day, they have different personalities, different interests, and different perspectives on life. These differences are what make them the smart, strong, loving, kind, handsome young men they are today. They have a very bright future ahead of them no matter what they choose and I cannot wait to see them shine!
Parents, as hard as it may be at times, my advice to you is to let your children discover their path in their own way, and just be there every step of the way to love and support them. These are the moments that both of you will remember and cherish forever.