Sarah’s daughter is a freshman at Harvard. Jan’s son is at MIT. My daughter’s former track teammate is at
UCLA, another one of her friends started at Boston University this fall, and
the guy who took my little girl to the prom is ensconced at Reed College. My daughter graduated last June from the
second highest achieving public high school in the state. Going to college is a given for most of these
kids—and not just the ones whose parents can (kind of) afford it. A significant subset of kids (or is it their
parents?) are seriously obsessed with bagging a prestige school.
All last winter and early spring the parental buzz was about
SATs, ACTs and AP subject tests, about college visits and applications and
essays, about public versus private, urban versus small town, big versus small,
east, west or in the middle. And then it
was about which schools were offering what deals. And then it was about choosing. I listened, an outsider, an outlier. My daughter, my talented, funny,
smart-but-not-book-smart daughter, was not interested. She was not college-bound.
Gee, my dream for my about-to-be high school graduate might not be her dream for herself.
I had gone to a good university. I had visited campuses with my parents,
thrilled at the prospect of going away. I had taken all the tests, polished my resume until it gleamed, agonized
over my options, wrote, revised and re-revised my essay and then applied early
decision to my top choice. One late fall
afternoon in senior year, I got a message from the principal’s office to call
home. I called my mother from this
little pay phone booth in the main hall. The letter had arrived, she said. Of
course I knew what letter. I told her to
open it. Silence. Then she let out a whoop. That was a long time ago, but I still have an
almost a visceral memory of that moment, that heady mix of elation and relief
with an overlay of unabashed ego.
But enough about me.
Isn’t this is about my talented, lovely daughter and how
entirely disinterested she was in going to college? Yes. But,
in case you haven’t guessed yet, it really is (unfortunately) also about me. About how I had to learn to stop steering the
dinner conversation around to college, about how I had to learn to stop sending
her website links to great schools I had spent hours researching, about how I
had to stop pleading with her older brothers—both in college—to “just talk
to your sister.” About how I had to take
a deep breath and transcend the envy when yet another friend told me about yet
another acceptance letter her daughter or son got in the mail. About how I eventually got it through my
thick skull that, gee, my dream for my about-to-be high school graduate might
not be her dream for herself. About how
I had to let go and let her control her fate.
And what about the part of this story that truly is not
My daughter started a two-year culinary program this fall,
and I have never seen her happier.