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The Downside to the Best Schools

Photograph by Getty Images

Last year, I violated the cardinal rule of looking at grade schools for my kids: I fell in love with one that was hard to get into. Really hard. We had no connections, no political clout, and no family money with which to make a "generous donation" in advance of the admission decisions. All we had to offer was ourselves.

Still, I held out hope. When the rejection letter came last spring, I was disappointed, but not surprised.

We regrouped and found another school that was a good fit for our family. It was not "the dream school," but it was a loving environment where I watched my daughter thrive and become an enthusiastic learner. I put the dream school out of my head and focused on settling in the school that accepted us.

Halfway through the school year we got a call a from . . . the dream school.

Miraculously, they were going to have a few spots open next year, and we were invited to apply. I was excited but cautious. They made no promises that we would be selected, only that we would have a chance to compete for a spot. I toured the school again and remembered why I fell head-over-heels for it. Not only is it nurturing and student-centered, it's also world-class and cutting-edge progressive. I was dying to give my children the gift of an education from this school.

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When I first heard the news that they had a spot for us, I pulled the car over to cry tears of gratitude. I could hardly believe that the dream school was going to become our school. I was elated. I looked over the list of impressive alumni—scientists, Peace Corps members, MacArthur fellows—and thought about the additional doors that this education might open for my children. As the reality of this school was sinking in, an overwhelming feeling of sadness came over me.

Giving my children greater educational opportunities is tantamount to giving them bigger wings to fly away

"This is not supposed to make me feel sad—this is all fantastic!" I thought. But in my mind, the dream school offers opportunities and paths that will ultimately take my children far, far away from me. I actually said to my husband, "They are going to leave us in the dust." To me, giving my children greater educational opportunities is tantamount to giving them bigger wings to fly away, chasing dreams that mostly likely do not involve me at all.

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And of course that's exactly how it should be. It's not that I want to clip their wings so they will have to live in the basement and never graduate from high school, but I am mourning the fact that I can't have it all. I can't give them incredible opportunities and keep them right beside me.

I wish I could have both.

I'm not sad enough to decline the offer from the dream school, but I am sad enough to pause and begin the mourning process that is just beginning and will probably last my entire life.

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