My daughter clicked the submit button on her last college application and a wave of nausea swept over me. I had a sinking feeling I had failed her miserably. I’m sure she’ll get in to some school and have a wonderful experience, but I can’t escape the realization that she isn’t as competitive a candidate as some of her peers because I wasted her childhood, allowing her to get to this point in life without a specialty.
All the most successful kids seem to have their thing – a sport, an academic subject, writing awards, professional acting or dance, their own charitable organization, anything they can excel at that sets them apart from the field. The sidewalks of childhood are littered with materials from the multitude of organizations out there ready to help ambitious parents shepherd their child along.
I could have sent my girl to science or sports camps where she would have worked with giants in some field. She could have attended summer school or on-line courses and had a year of college credit before she started her first application. I could have pushed her into an obscure sport such as cricket or curling every vacation and all summer, clearly making her stand out from her classmates.
Instead, she is left with a regular bio containing the spectrum of what youth has to offer. Jobs such as babysitting, a sleep away camp known only for trees and a lovely lake, classes all over the place including painting, dance and theater, this is what filled her early years.
In the moment, I thought this was the way to go, that I was doing the right thing. I thought that I could give my daughter a childhood filled with fun and variety, experiences and relationships she would look back on fondly the rest of her life and a broad background she could apply to any future path.
There were clues that my plan was misguided. The signs of competition were everywhere, evidence she would contend with thousands of other high school seniors for coveted spots at colleges and universities. I put on my well-meaning blinders, selling out her future for a frivolous youth.
When I applied to college, things were different. The school I went to received less than half the applications it will this year. Overall, the total number of high school seniors and college applications are at an all time high. Some schools receive more than 40,000 pleas for acceptance.
To stand out in such a crowded field, you have to have accomplishments under tour belt. Playing a sport at a national level doesn’t hurt. Placing in a national science competition is nice to have on your portfolio. A performance at BAM can get some bigwig’s attention. But getting to that level in anything takes hours of devotion, year after year.
My poor daughter plays on three teams, and spreads herself around the academic and arts departments of her high school. She drags herself out of bed each morning and rushes to school, looking forward to whatever she’s got going that day.
I watch as she flies out the door, or comes home tired from practices and rehearsals with homework still to do, and I think it doesn’t matter what college finally accepts her.
I wouldn’t change the choice I made. I am amazed by — and proud of — the joy she finds in so many different things.Read The Dad every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.