Parents, get off the crazy train now, while you still have a chance. When did children become little adults? Did I miss that? I think it must have been in the 90s. It certainly wasn’t in the 50s and 60s, when I learned that I was not the center of the universe. Now, children are trained from birth to read before they can walk. They perform math calculations in kindergarten in this new-fangled math that you can’t even begin to decipher. They have cellphones and iPads, get mani-pedis, and dictate their parents’ daily schedules. Vacations are scheduled around their activities. A birthday party is no longer a cake-and-ice-cream affair; it must have an elaborate Theme and the budget of an emerging nation to compete with other families. Give me a break.
The Veterinarian and I were 47 in 1999, when we adopted The Daughter from Colorado and moved her to Maryland. She was eight and starting the third grade at our local public school with 250 other third graders (you read that correctly — 250 students per grade). We knew she could multiply, but the school insisted on putting her in a math class that wasn’t even adding and subtracting on paper. After a month of complaining, we were able to have her moved into the mainstream math class, where she excelled. We were more concerned because she couldn’t read, and, despite expressing our concerns, the school downplayed the problem. However, on the last day of the third grade, we were informed, by letter, that she was reading in the 28th percentile, which was acceptable to the school system. It was not acceptable to us. Over the summer, we hired the reading tutor that the school wouldn’t provide.
“This girl is above-average in intelligence,” the independent reading specialist informed us. “She just doesn’t know how to sound out words.” She began a weekly program of instruction in phonics. Within six weeks, The Daughter moved up to a fourth grade reading level and was reading at mid-fourth grade level when she started fourth grade.
Still, the school told us that she shouldn’t bother to participate in instrumental education (she wanted to play cello) or an extra-credit “patriot” program. Tired of fighting for our child to just be “average,” we started looking at the day school at our Episcopal church, where she completed a battery of tests.
“She is definitely above-average,” the admissions director told us. “She’s a year behind us in math, but all of the public school students are. However, she is smart enough to catch up in no time.”
With our fingers crossed, The Daughter started the fifth grade at private school and never looked back. Overnight, we had joined the “Overachieving Parents Club.” Notice that I didn’t say “Overachieving Students Club.” Oh, no. Every child was training for the Ivy League, which started with getting into the “right” high school. They read before starting kindergarten, studied piano, spoke French, painted landscapes and sculpted, swam, rode horses, and played “club” soccer and lacrosse (a sport we had never seen, being from the Midwest) in hopes of getting a college scholarship. They were scheduled to the nano-second. All we wanted was a child who could read and function in the real world, who would grow up to be a happy, well-adjusted, functioning, paycheck-earning, mortgage-paying adult — someday, but not today. It was the yin and yang of education; either slide the kid along or cram in more than the kid could take.
At 10, The Daughter played the cello and sketched cartoons of cats and dogs and loved “Harry Potter.” She swam on a “club” team, six days a week. We were advised that she didn’t have much of a chance to get into her “first choice” of high schools, but she applied anyway. They were the only ones that had both a swim team and an orchestra. She was accepted at all three. The day after acceptance letters were mailed, she was accosted in the hallway at school by a classmate.
“I can’t believe you got into [top co-ed high school], and I didn’t,” the girl complained. “I’m such a great lacrosse player, and you don’t even play.”
“Well,” The Daughter replied, “there are a lot of girls who play lacrosse but not many who swim, I guess.” That’s my girl!
Parental overachieving got really crazy in high school, where the crazy train started in earnest. The Veterinarian and I graduated from a large Midwestern state university with its own impressive share of Rhodes Scholars (Go Green!). Neither of us learned to play an instrument, and I never played a sport. It never occurred to us that we would send our child to a private school, much less a private or out-of-state college.
The school sent mixed messages. At a meeting in the spring of her freshman year, school counselors told us that they didn’t believe in the “Advanced Placement” (aka “AP”) courses but claimed that the parents clamored for it. They told us that students successfully applied and were accepted at wonderful schools. On the other hand, to obtain a scholarship, they said, the schools wanted to see whether or not a student had tried and succeeded at the highest level possible. The old Catch-22. The irony, of course, is that the cost of attending one of these prestigious high schools approximated two years of tuition at an in-state public university.
Deciding to give it a try, The Daughter was enrolled in AP World History, but, within a month, we knew it was a mistake. She also took honors math and honors French. After nightly swim and cello practice, she was up until 1 am, studying. None of us could stand it. We talked to the AP teacher, who assured us that The Daughter was doing well. We took her out of honors math, where she was struggling to get a C, but, in regular math, she was getting easy As. She spent the remainder of the year struggling with the AP class, which turned out to be a nightmare in many ways. She started SAT-prep classes. In the spring, we all sat down.
“This makes no sense,” the Veterinarian said. “You’re a teenager. You’re supposed to have fun in high school. All you do is run around from school to swimming to cello lessons and then stay up half the night studying. You have no free time.”
“No one does, Dad. Everyone stays up all night.”
“Well, that’s just crazy,” I replied, “You’re miserable. We have no Ivy League pretensions. We’re not sending you to an out-of-state college. Dad and I are well-educated, successful adults. We didn’t do all this stuff in high school, and you don’t have to go through this wringer to be successful in life. In fact, if you don’t take time to relax and reflect, you aren’t going to be a successful adult.”
And that’s when we got off the crazy train. No honors or AP classes, but she did pick up two years of Spanish to go along with her three years of French, pre-Calc, Calc, biology, genetics, an amazing year of Art History, and a semester studying Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.” She started writing a humorous column on health for the school paper. Senior year, she applied to in-state schools, with the intention of studying nursing. Double the horror! An adult actually said to me,
“What a shame that you sent her to that prestigious high school and all she can do is study nursing at an in-state school.” (And the woman was a nurse!!!)
Fortunately, she got college credit for World History, but the only other class that would have helped would have been AP Statistics. As a nursing student, none of the others, not AP English, Chem, Bio, or Calc would have eliminated all of the required credits she needed.
By March of her senior year in college, she had already been offered her dream job in the critical care unit of a major hospital. Two years later, she lives independently, with a job she loves, a new car, an apartment of her own, and picks up her half of the check when we go out.
What more could an overachieving mother want?
As my Match subscription winds down, I’ve been checking other sites. What will I write about, if I don’t stay in the online dating loop? I would write it off as a business expense, if I was making any money off this blog.
Since eHarmony originally rejected me, I “tricked” it into accepting me under a different email address. Basically, I described myself as a kind, gentle, well-adjusted woman. Boring, I know. I thought I had been successful, but I’m only getting men from out-of-state, so kind, gentle, well-adjusted men must be further flung than I anticipated. Because I haven’t actually subscribed to its service (eHarmony is the most expensive of the dating sites), I don’t get to see the photos of the prospective dates, but, that’s ok. I won’t be dating anyone in Albuquerque or Dubuque any time soon. Really. There are no boring men within 50 miles of me.
Match has several subsidiaries. As you may have read, I tried Our Time in November, which was an unmitigated disaster. Now, I’m trying Chemistry, which is Match’s version of eHarmony’s relationship questionnaire. As always, I seem to be the — how shall I say it? — unique woman.
According to the questionnaire, my “primary type” is “Explorer,” which means that I
…seek adventures of the mind and senses. You are very curious and creative, and you are willing to take some risks to pursue your interests. Adaptable and optimistic, you can be easily bored when you’re not doing something interesting. You have a lot of energy, and you tend to be spontaneous or even impulsive.
You are more creative than other personality types and usually have a wide variety of interests. You find it easy to focus intently on what interests you, and your enthusiasm promotes motivation and a drive to achieve…
But never, ever, ever overachieve!