Or Mr. Tufts, Wesleyan or Amherst. Or really any one of the fancy East Coast colleges Child One applied to. This is the moment for highschool seniors everywhere to experience anxiety, stress and fear. And for parents of highschool seniors – particularly those of us who are, perhaps, a little too involved in the lives of our children – to wring our hands, soothe furrowed brows and act as if we don’t share the anxiety, stress and fear. And this is the moment when I remember all those moments at the end of last year – all those moments when we struggled through the dread disease, “Mediocrity.”
Child One periodically came down with Mediocrity during the application process. Mediocrity doesn’t manifest as a fever or vomiting, but is often accompanied by sniffles and tears. Mostly, Mediocrity is accompanied by conversation about college – where she’ll get in, where she won’t. Of course, not getting in to a particular college is known as “rejection.” Which, by very definition, means that getting in is equivalent to “acceptance.” And since Child One is applying to schools I could only dream of at her age, acceptance to any of them feels like something with very little relation to mediocrity to me. But I don’t breathe Child One’s rarified private school air and I don’t occupy her self-motivated, driven, competitive shoes. And so it doesn’t matter one bit that I would be happy with whatever school she goes to. It doesn’t matter that Sig Other is incredibly proud of her no matter what. What matters is that somehow if she doesn’t get in to the top top top of her choices, she will feel like a failure.
Of course it is true that of the seven schools, one is considered better than the other six. It is also true that neither Sig Other nor myself expect her to get into said school. And there is one of the seven that is, of those very high-ranking, very specialized schools, that could be considered to be sort of at the bottom of what is still a tippy top, fancy-pants list. When Sig Other and I ask Child One what would happen if she got accepted to the last of the very elite seven, she answers that she will feel mediocre.
A quiet beat follows her response and a look passes between us – between two people who have spent their whole lives working hard and feeling mediocre – two people who have very little interest in belonging to clubs that would have us as members and two people who strive to constantly be more – more successful, more interesting, more interested. And we start to laugh. Child One is sort of indignant so we explain. We didn’t soothe or chide or pretend that we didn’t understand. We do understand. All too well. So we say, sort of simultaneously, “oh shit – we did it to her.” Somehow the gene – the “I’m mediocre” gene - passed biologically through her father and perhaps through the ether from me, leaving Child One stuck in a world in which she’ll never be quite good enough. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. I’m not sure anyone who I admire ever feels completely and totally up to snuff. But it sure sucks watching your kid – your brilliant, hard-working, beautiful, ambitious, shiny kid – suffer ridiculous breast-beating insecurity and know that somehow you couldn’t break the cycle – couldn’t end generations of mediocrity on her behalf.
I’m hopeful Child Two will escape it. He’s oddly incredibly pleased with himself most of the time. True he has moments and bouts and can’t help comparing himself to his sister, particularly now that they’re in the same school and her shadow looms large over him. But I often catch him looking in the mirror and sort of winking at himself. And he mostly speaks with the confidence and maturity of a kid far beyond his age. It isn’t an easy road, the one in front of him. Between Sig Other and Child One, he surely must feel the pressure to succeed. But hopefully we’ve given him enough room to be different, to be his own dude, to define himself in his own way. And since so far he’s chosen to veer away from every road his sister has travelled (she rides horses, he can’t stand them, she played piano, he chose drums), perhaps the road of mediocrity will elude him.
In the meantime, Sig Other and I will wring our hands and wait by the mailbox...