Mid-September. It’s go time. Or, perhaps time to finally deal with that impulse to bury your head in the sand.

I’m coming to the unpleasant realization that I’m not Tony Robbins (as one of my favorite mentors likes to put it, immediately setting herself up for a jolly sidebar with parents about how badly she’s dating herself). Inspiration is just discovered more easily by some teenagers than by others.

One of the qualities that I pride myself on is my ability to connect with my kids—interacting with them in a way that (I hope) strikes the right “mentor-friend” balance. The other tricky balancing act, though, is finding the sweet spot on the optimism-realism spectrum. I lean, for better or worse, toward the eternally optimistic side; I suspect that may change when one of these days I have kids of my own.

But now is the time that the optimism really has the potential to rear up and kick me in the face. The beginning of the school year is showing itself to be the time of making and (possibly) breaking, when something jumps into high gear. Whether it’s the impulse to get these applications done or, rather, to pull out every procrastination tactic known to teen-kind is really up to the individual student.

What I’m noticing is that the impulse toward procrastination often seems to have a strong correlation to the level of parental denial. The reach-school aspirations of the student, which in all previous meetings aligned reasonably well with those of the parent, are now starting to fade and drift like a sleepy driver at the wheel.

Other cities are suddenly popping up on these students’ radar, which, after a little further investigation, turn out to coincide with the places boyfriends and girlfriends are strongly considering. Test scores suddenly seem much more intimidating as the next exam dates draw close. No one ever seems to know where to begin to write their essays, and even when we do manage to get something onto that screen, they don’t know how to address the feedback they’re given at any stage of the process (“I just don’t GET it—how am I supposed to show this rather than tell it?”). Brag sheets seem to do anything but brag. To-do lists have suddenly become overwhelming and impenetrable; deadlines slip past. The whole machine—if it was running to begin with—comes to a grinding halt.

So the “talking off the ledge” phase begins, one in which the most fearful students have to be reminded that YES, they WILL be going to college next year, that this application process will only last another four months tops, and that in actuality, nothing has changed from the a month ago, when everything seemed to be relatively well in hand. Each next step needs to be baby-sized, with no distractions other than senior year classes; hands need to be held; words of encouragement need to be uttered gently and frequently.

May seems like a long ways away.