Early Decision

For some time now, I have been trying to figure out why people stop me on the street to tell me that their children have been admitted to highly selective colleges. Yes, I have been an independent college admissions counselor for 30-something years. But no, I don't have a neon sign emblazoned across my sweaty tee-shirt flashing "tell me where your kids go to school."I have also checked my forehead in the mirror. The words "I MUST know where your child will be going to college in the fall" do not appear.
Just this past Saturday for example I met a woman at the water stop. Some folks in her training group chatted with some of my running buddies as we all desperately slurped fluid replacement. I did not know and still do not know anything about her. I don't know her occupation, I don't know her marital status, I don't know her political opinions or whether or not she will run the Miami marathon next month. But I do know that her son was accepted early decision to Princeton and that he will matriculate in New Jersey this fall. The dictionary may be the only place where "intercourse" comes before"introduction" but where in the world of Carmen San Diego does where your kid goes to college come before,"Hello, my name is"?
It's 6:30 on Saturday morning for goodness sake. All decent people are obsessing about their training regimens and mile times. All civilized conversation is fixated on how mind-numbingly hot it is (sorry, friends up north!) and whether or not it will rain during the marathon next month. I could not help but ponder. What if this stranger had a cognitively impaired child? What if that child were headed to Rainbow Acres--a wonderful facility for developmentally delayed young adults in Arizona? Would this mom have been so forthcoming, greeting strangers with the news? "My 20-year-old daughter will learn weaving and how to make spaghetti. The goal is for her to some day live independently."
Indeed, imagine what it must be like for parents of children with intellectual disabilities. The spectrummy child has been excluded from birthday parties, play dates, organized sports, and advanced classes forever. No one ever came home from the maternity ward intoning, "I hope my child will have to miss recess in favor of occupational therapy." I'm sure this woman didn't mean to. But by bragging about this good thing that happened to her neuro-typical child, isn't she somehow spitting on somebody else's impaired child?
Everybody wants the kid who is elected to be student council president while pitching the league championship game and being admitted to Princeton. But could you please stop talking about it? At least for as long as it takes me to get a cool drink before finishing my run? I also have to wonder what else is going on in this woman's life that makes her define herself by the lucky roll of the dice that her son apparently got. I like my kids. But I don't define myself by where they go to college. Indeed, I would like my kids no matter where they went to college or indeed, IF they went to college. Imagine.
As the early decision announcements hit your emails this week, you have an opportunity to join a broader if clandestine community. There are still some folks who communicate to their children "we love you for who you are not for where you matriculate." You get the chance to say to your kids, "You are aces in my book; I'm glad to be your dad." You can communicate, "Oh, you were admitted to a highly selective college rather than to North Cornstalk State? Give me a hand with these dishes then let's play some cards."
Because the sub-text, "You DIDN'T fill that inside straight and get admitted to Princeton, therefore there is something wrong with you" is the last message an otherwise loving parent wants to send."I love you for who you are rather than where you go" is not only psychically safer in the long run but will also allow me to get some fluid replacement and get back to my training. Early Saturday morning is just the wrong time to be bragging about early decision. And if you think about, the right time to boast to strangers about where your child got accepted to college might be never.

13 thoughts on “Early Decision

  1. Richard Rampell

    See my email answer to your message.

    Richard Rampell, Princeton ’74, Spouse of ’75, Parent of ’07 and brother of ’77

    Reply
  2. Eric Friedland-Kays

    David, I like what you wrote here! It reminds me of the bumper stickers that boast “my child is an honors student at blah blah.” All well and good your child is doing well, if that what works well for her, but do you really want to risk shaming others with your public pride? I like the reframe bumper sticker “all children are honored at _______ school”. I like the idea that people have different learning styles and different learning needs.
    Thank you,
    Eric Friedland-Kays
    Northampton, MA

    Reply
  3. Kent

    Don’t knock “North Cornstalk State”. We love our Cornhuskers here in Nebraska and all of our kids who are not going to Princeton.

    Reply
  4. ron warner

    I would suggest that it’s a proud mothers right to brag about her child. I’m a father of the two brightest girls in the world and the next four brightest grand children in the world so what do I know

    Reply
  5. Murray Yamks

    It is a status symbol for people who are more concerned about bragging than whether there children are well adjusted and understand that everybody is not so well privileged. Hope her hubby gave her everything on her Christmas wish list. Sounds like another stereotypical ignorant American woman with a superior narcisstic personality disorder.

    Reply
  6. Joseph Loftin

    Dave, Again I greatly appreciate your calling out unhealthy expectations placed on children by adults vicariously filling their own voids through their children’s accomplishments. Keep your juices flowing! Good luck as you approach another marathon.

    Reply
  7. John Calia

    You’re a hard man, Mr. Altshuler. (And, I say that with love and affection.)

    It’s hard to know why the woman you met greeted you as she did. However, it may be that her child is well-adjusted teenager who worked hard in school so she could have the advantage of going to an Ivy League school. Any parent would be justly proud in the same circumstance.

    There are likely many other reasons this woman loves her son. And, it seems likely (to me anyway) that she would love him even if he hadn’t got into Princeton. It’s also fair to say that many people “define” themselves “by the lucky roll of the dice” that gets their children into a good college. That doesn’t make them bad parents.

    Her effusiveness may have been a breach of good manners but that may be all there is to it.

    Reply
  8. Jennifer Young

    Wonderful post!!
    I too am guilty as I brag about my son’s gifted abilities.
    My daughter, still just 4, I don’t know what her future holds as she appears “normal”.
    And, what is “normal”? Who is the authority on this?
    Every year we see changes in the educational system and allow our teachers and professors to have great influence on our children.They carry a lot of power in how they should vote, think, and then judge them with a grade accordingly. And, as human nature, we all are imperfect and should recognize that even a professor or individual with great influence on our children, can subject our children to their opinions.
    A great professor and I were speaking. He works with the brightest minds in education. I asked him what was the one thing he could find concern with, if any from the graduating class. His answer was “Independent thought and the ability to think outside the box”. I continued to press on, he told me how these minds can speed read, memorize the calculations and words they study. But to have them try and put those words into their own was a big struggle for even these brilliant minds.
    At my son’s private school, god forbid you engage with a different personal view- that can allow an instructor a heavy bias which can potentially effect a grade!
    What I have learned is that I need to change my speech and language and it should begin at home with my children.
    If they are loved, confident in who they are and can live independent lives, I will feel proud.
    I need to be aware first that I am raising free thinkers, happy and true individualists.
    Awareness and sensitivity is what I took away from this email and I thank you because we all need to be more thoughtful and kinder to one another.
    Now- go kick some butt at your marathon!! 👏

    Reply
  9. JILL STONE

    David, thanks for your very real post. The message is a VERY important one, and the way it manifested let’s us see the inner-workings of your mind – a catalyst which may certainly facilitate fewer morning conversations (at least those without an introduction) while you replace fluids.

    Your career is based on parents believing that you care. And I know you do.

    Since I’m all about solutions – why not prepare a post (excuse me if you’ve done so already) or hand out for parents of the students you see, including the top 10 list for parents – something they can keep top of mind when it comes to encouraging and supporting their children during the college advisory/admissions process. I know what you do is to help students, but as we all know, there are parents in many cases that could use a dose of guidance, as well.

    Reply
  10. B

    I guess winning sports teams cannot celebrate their victory or hard work because they are spitting on the losers? Ridiculous! Good for the parents who have a right to brag…it is a lot of hard work to get into any school and parental support is a big part of the process.

    Reply

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