I live in a highly competitive town; the kind of town that is populated by over-educated, type-A parents who breed over-educated, highly competitive, type-A kids. Why, you may ask, do I live here? Well, when your kids are little and you are looking for a house you are easily swayed by a nice, safe community and blue ribbon schools. What you don’t realize though, is that while you intend to read Goodnight Moon and Polar Bear, Polar Bear to your kids, your neighbor will be reading Anna Karenina and War and Peace to his kids…in Russian.
Little by little though (when it’s too late to uproot your family) you start to see the signs: your kid can’t play competitive baseball past the age of 9 unless he can make the travel team (and if he can’t make the travel team then it’s time to pick a new sport); your daughter can’t get the lead in the community play and play soccer at the same time because only serious actors need apply for the leads; and don’t even think about having a child who wants to play an instrument in high school and explore another subject as an elective.
Although we managed to avoid most of that stress for the first 15 years of our oldest child’s life nothing prepared me for the ultimate competition…the college search.
My 16-year-old attends a public high school with over 4000 kids—1100 of them are juniors like he is—and apparently every single one of those juniors is going to an Ivy League University.
According to every parent that I run into his/her child is being courted by or committed to an Ivy! And they are only juniors!
Ok. Clearly many (not all) of them are full of shit but it still makes me feel like I’ve failed miserably at something. I want to pretend that my son is going to Princeton too!
It’s hard not to get caught up in the frenzy when you are surrounded by parents who are masters of the “humble brag”:
Poor Muffy! I don’t know how she is going to choose between Yale or Harvard. I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes!
Did your son hear from Northwestern and Duke yet? Our mailbox is bursting with catalogs and letters from them. I figure everyone is hearing from them, right? It couldn’t just be my son, could it??
When I first heard about that kid being inundated with college mail I started to panic. Sure, my son was getting emails and brochures from schools but we weren’t buried in mail!
Then a friend pointed out that my son probably didn’t check the box on the ACT application that allows schools to send him materials.
It took everything in me not to find his login and check that damn box. Who knows what schools would send him brochures?! Then I would feel wanted!
Uhm, did I say I? I meant he. He will feel wanted. That’s right – this has nothing whatsoever to do with me.
And just like that I get sucked into this ugly place where I start to feel bad about my kid’s prospects even though he is doing really well.
When I am able to step off the habitrail of college craziness, I realize that I don’t actually care that my son is not looking at an Ivy League school. Contrary to what my neighbors say not everyone will attend a top tier school nor should they. It reminds me of something that author and psychologist, Madeline Levine said in the documentary, “Race to Nowhere.” I’m paraphrasing here but she pointed out that when we were growing up (I’m speaking as a 40-something here) we knew that some kids would go to Harvard, now everyone thinks they are.
But my son would not thrive at a highly rigorous university—for a dozen reasons (and no, I’m not trying to rationalize anything). My oldest is not an academic. He does not love to study. You will never catch him researching some random topic or reading the encyclopedia for fun (yes, that is what I used to do and yes, I am a total dork). But sometimes you realize that your kid is not you and they have other tremendous skills that are worth encouraging.
For instance, my oldest is highly adept at bringing disparate groups of people together and creating amazing connections between people. And—in what I view as his greatest skill—he has an uncanny ability to get other people to do things for him. Just the other day I told him that he couldn’t go out until he shoveled our sidewalks. Fifteen minutes later two of his friends showed up at our door with shovels in hand and helped him clear the snow.
I guarantee they can’t teach that in college. Ivy League schools be damned.