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The One Question You Should Always Ask Your Teen Before They Head Out the Door

Updated: Mar 11, 2019

“Do I have everything?"

My college roommates and I used to ask that every time we walked out the door to go somewhere. None of us carried a purse so it meant a quick pocket check to make sure we had what we needed to study at the library (or drink at the bar if you’re reading this and you're not my mom, dad or one of my kids). 

Back then it meant your ID, lipstick, money, and a 7-Eleven dollar in your shoe in case you needed to stop for a hot dog on the way home (we usually needed to). 

On SAT and/or ACT test day it means something else, and on the day my daughter took the ACTs it went like this:

10 minutes before we needed to leave: 

Daughter: “I don’t have a calculator.”

Me:"What do you mean you don’t have a calculator?? I bought you the T.I. blabbedy blah blab one for Christmas.* And I bought at least 2 for the boy man. There MUST be one around here somewhere!"

(*I know, but her other gifts were pretty great and that thing is crazy expensive).

Daughter: “Well I left mine in my car.” 

I was thinking ‘Dear God, how lazy are you that you can’t go get it?’, and then realized the boy man had the car. Three and a half hours away at school. Dammit.

Me:"Is there anyone you can borrow one from?"  

Daughter: “Not at this time of morning.”

"Well can you at least try?"

“MOOOOMMMMMM, no one is even gonna be awake to see my text.”

"Can you call someone?"


In Hindsight, I should have called someone. Anyone. We’ve all had to buy those stupid calculators. It’s not like they’re rare Faberge eggs, every house within a 3 mile radius probably has at least one. I should have just knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked.

What I did instead was try to buy one. At 7:30 a.m. On a Saturday. 

My options were super limited. 7-Eleven definitely didn’t have them. Walmart sells some sort of knock-offish thing, but didn’t have any in stock (at any of the three stores I visited). I bought the next best one they had at store #3, which of course was woefully insufficient and led to...well she might kill me if I give all the details of what happened next. Let's just say there were lots of tears, yelling and cursing happened, and I’m not proud of either of us.

As we were about to leave, I asked the obvious force of habit question:

“Do you have everything?”

Daughter: "YESSSSS." (I don’t know how to type that so it looks like it had attitude, but that yes had SO. MUCH. ATTITUDE.)

“Do you have your admission ticket?”

“No. I need to print it.” (That had far less attitude and possibly a little bit of chagrin). 

"Wait. WHAT??!! Just to recap, while I was out driving around trying to find a d#mn calculator that we already own at least 3 of, you didn’t print the one thing you actually HAVE to have to sit for this exam?"

(This was exploding with momitude)

Daughter: Complete. Silence. (aka pouting)

So she went to print it and discovered the printer was out of ink (of course) and paper. Both of which are stored in the drawer located directly under the printer. I waited. She wilted. Seriously it was a flashback to the pre-school “lunch bunch” days when she’d stay for an extra hour and not nap so I could run a few more errands. It was NEVER worth it. She’d hit an emotional wall.

Then and now. 

I really wanted her to laugh at the Murphy’s Law-ness of the situation, find the ink and paper and move on.

But we were solidly in late territory and dangerously close to being in the way-too-late-and-now-you’ve-missed-it-altogether category. 

In a horrific helicopter parent moment of panic, I put the ink & paper in, asked about pencils…watched her slouch over to her backpack and scrounge some sorry looking ones out, and then asked about water, a snack? She snarled “I don’t want anything.” It was all I could do to not fill a water bottle, and put some clementines, a Luna bar and an inspirational note in a bag for her, but I didn’t. I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed of that decision.

She didn’t eat or drink anything before going, brought NOTHING with her, arrived with seconds to spare with the worst nubby pencils (no erasers) I’ve ever seen, a crap calculator, an even worse attitude and tears brimming. 

Me dropping her off:

Um, Good luck?”

Daughter: evil, icy glare, zero words and a car door slam that knocked off 3 hubcaps. 

Stellar morning.

I had a huge lump in my throat knowing how despondent she was feeling, and berated myself for not making sure she had everything she needed the night before. That’s what I usually do. What I’ve been doing for 18 years, but I thought ‘she’s got this’. 

This wasn’t our first college entrance exam. She knows the drill. And she needs to learn to do this on her own. But also sh#t!!! My poor girl. She can be really hard on herself, and get so worked up she psychs herself out. And despite getting a great first SAT score, she was convinced it wasn’t high enough, she wasn’t smart enough and her only chance at getting into a good school hinged on acing this ACT (not true).

I milled around as the hours dragged on and did little but worry until it was time to pick her up. Abject terror is the best description of my mood as I rolled into the parking lot. And then I saw her walking out with a longtime friend from middle school. They go to different schools now, and don’t see each other often but have always been kindred spirits. They walked out in lockstep, heads together, laughing. 


She opened the car door and I held my breath.

"How was it?"

She responded with a lighthearted “Not bad.” 

Not bad??

That’s the equivalent of “amazing” in teenagerese. There’s an SAT question in there somewhere: "Not bad" is to "AMAZING" as "fine" is to  ___________ in teenspeak: a) great b) lit c) so-so or d) crap?

Apparently she sat down right next to her friend without even seeing her. The friend called her name (which she didn’t hear), and finally leaned over, tapped her arm and gave her a hug.

Maybe it was a coincidence. Or maybe it was whatever the law that’s the opposite of Murphy’s Law at play, some Mother’s Love Law that allows things like that to happen when your child needs them most. I know having her buddy right next to her changed the course of that day, and possibly her score.

And though I’m proud of the score, I was far more concerned about her heart. 

For parents of test-takers, and worriers about teen hearts, check the list.

(Be like Santa and check it twice).

Ask “do you have everything,” but ask it the day, or better yet, a few days before the test. Here’s what you need to have on test day:

  • Admission ticket - a real, old school paper copy, not an e-ticket (this isn’t a concert). And more than one copy’s not a bad idea. 

  • Photo ID/Driver’s license - that looks like the photo submitted for the ticket. Some test-takers aren’t drivers yet, that’s okay. School photo IDs work. And the DMV issues youth IDs (over the age of 10). They’re awesome for sports, travel and lots of situations just like this one. Here’s the link to get one in PAAnd the official SAT ID requirements link.

  • Pencils (with erasers)- bring a few. Someone always needs one and kindness rules.

  • Approved calculator- Your own. No sharing. "Approved" is key - check the official rules. And again not an e-version, no phone or laptop calculator. A real one. And word to the wise, check the batteries, know how to use it and actually use it on some practice questions, preferably in a class. Hello Acumen Test Prep

And some things you’ll probably want with you: 

  • Water bottle/drink (but the mom in me highly recommends plain old water)

  • Sweatshirt/jacket (sometimes it’s cold in test centers. Sometimes it’s hot. Layers are your friend)

  • A good attitude (because your parents need all their hubcaps)

Sign up early, test centers fill up quickly. And sign up with friends, there’s something comforting about being with your people, and in the event of a car mishap you’ll have a back up ride. Get a good night's sleep, and eat breakfast/drink coffee/exercise…whatever you normally need to do to be alert, do that. 

Parents, if they’re driving themselves make sure their car has gas, they know how to get there, and how long it takes to get there. Time management is not everyone’s thing. Don’t forget to ask “do you have everything?," and maybe give them a couple of dollars for a 7-Eleven treat on the way home. 

They’ve earned it.  

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