I went to a dinner party the other night to not celebrate my friend’s daughter’s sixteenth birthday. The daughter was so opposed to celebrating this birthday—we’re not sure why—but we went against her wishes and brought her presents and sang “Happy Birthday” while cutting a big, giant ice cream cake. All in all, it was the best non-celebration I’ve been to in a while. It was refreshing to have a retro birthday party, complete with ice cream cake, candles, family, and friends.
This birthday is significant because her birthday represents the last of my friend’s children to turn sixteen. They are now in their junior year of high school and with that come PSATs, college essay writing courses, SAT prep courses, Advanced Placement courses (AP), and a lot of stress. My daughter and her friends—no slouches when it comes to studying and doing well in school—are hearing a lot about what it takes to get into college and how they might fall short of their personal goals with just one random misstep. I have spent the better part of the summer convincing my child, as well as her friends (when I can get them all together and hold them hostage), that they are very bright and not to sell themselves short when it comes to applying to schools.
But what is even more troubling than kids thinking they can’t achieve even their most realistic goals is how early all of this talk of college—and careers—is starting. It seems like this conversation, at parties and on ball fields alike, has been going on since the girls first entered high school. This may be a function of their having played on varsity sports and being surrounded by older girls who were making these decisions, or maybe not. Maybe we, as a group, are starting the conversation too early. Instead of using high school as a way station to college—a means to an end—we should just shut up and let the kids enjoy the experience that four years of high school can bring. Maybe I should take my own advice and “shut my dang pie hole.”
I’m just as guilty as other parents, I suspect, and that is why I’m going to keep college talk to a minimum around here until absolutely necessary. Heck, all this talk is starting to stress me out! I keep thinking back to my own college search which involved me visiting two colleges, applying to both, getting into one, and going there. There was no talk of the “common app” or the “safety school” or applying to ten or more schools, even though you would probably only choose between two, three, at most. When I was applying, college applications cost upwards of $150 to send in, and back in the recession-riddled late seventies and early eighties, you picked wisely so as not to have to take a college loan to pay off the cost of applying to college in the first place.
At the birthday party, there was talk of SAT tutors who charge in the neighborhood of four thousand dollars to help your kid ace the test and “college coaches” who can help you and your child navigate the process of applying. There was a discussion over the value of taking the Advanced Placement courses versus doing well in non-AP courses. A conversation centered around going to state university as opposed to private university. It’s enough to make your head spin.
The varsity football team had their home opener this past Saturday, which was a gorgeous late summer day in the low 70s. Girls’ field hockey commences this week. Mums are on sale at the local nursery, and soon, I’ll be making the first of many apple pies with delicious New York State apples. Homecoming is the second weekend in October. I need to remind my daughter that these are the things we should be talking about and doing and forget about test-taking skills, scores, and financial aid forms. There’s plenty of time until we need to get knee-deep in all of that.
What do you think, Stiletto faithful? Live in the present and enjoy high school or focus on the future?