It’s time to start thinking about a middle school for Number 71. Every fall comes a time of turmoil and strife into the lives of parents – private school and magnet school application season. In Houston, with school choice, parents can apply their children to any of the schools in the Houston Independent School District and they are then entered into a lottery – assuming they meet the school’s criteria – or allowed to audition, if the school is a performing arts magnet. This system is fairly straight forward and easily managed.
Private schools, on the other hand, are much more involved process. When I say more involved, I mean they are more involved than I remember applying to Dartmouth being. Than I remember applying to Georgetown being. Open houses, interviews, essays, recommendations, resumes, visits, tours. There are so many pieces and all are completely different for each private school. There is no common application.
These requirements, though, are not the worst part of the process.
The worst part of the process are the other parents.
All of us seem to be overtaken by an inferiority complex and competitive streak wider and deeper than anything any of us is aware could be running in our veins. Every interaction becomes an opportunity to gauge the competition and to measure your perfect child against theirs.
Why is it that we feel so measured by how our children do in a process that is, in reality, almost completely arbitrary?
That feeling of shame when things don’t work out and the loss of identity when your child doesn’t get in to a place where you thought they would so obviously be accepted. The stress of organizing and finagling and hearing about the extraordinary measures that others are taking on behalf of their kids.
It really is like those of us going through it are going through an episode of collective psychosis.
So much of our collective self worth as parents seems to be tied up in how our children are doing. We judge our performance as parents by looking to how they are doing. If they’re ok, we think we must be doing ok. We forget that OK is a much lower bar than has gotten in to the private school of our choice. This is the definition of privilege and always strikes me as wrong and worth challenging – even as it is our knee jerk. We want our children to have and excel in the things that we have an excel in. We see them bettering our lives as being OK rather than exceptional.
And it’s making us all obnoxiously and anxious.
So I’m trying to go through this application season with a little bit of humor. With a sense of the reality that Number 71 will have a middle school of some sort to attend. She will learn algebra and play on a sports team of questionable quality. She will meet new friends and, surely, some of her friends from elementary school will end up in the same school. I’m trying to keep in mind that her happy and OK will look nothing like I think they will look and that they won’t look like what mine would look like.