Sunday, March 15, 2015

I made Natalie cry at the dinner table

This week one evening when Mary was out at a meeting of some sort, Graham, Natalie and I were having dinner.  Natalie and I were talking about her course selection next year, and she said she wanted to take Theater.  I asked if it was honors, and she said no, that Theater 1 and 2 didn't have honors options.  Then we got into the whole GPA discussion and how this would hurt her GPA and thus her class rank, all of that.  I wasn't being heavy-handed, was trying to keep an even keel.

But she was getting upset, tears started welling up, she was really stressed out. "Just tell me what to do," she said.

This whole college admissions psychosis is the hardest thing in the world.  Frank Bruni's piece in the Times today was very good.  It made me cry. We have tried not to guide her too much, to let her find her own way, because she makes such good decisions and is doing so well and is so smart and is generally pretty happy.

And the problem is, we don't know what is the best thing for her.  On the one hand, I went to fancy schools, and though college in particular was a difficult time in my life for a lot of reasons, I'm glad I went to the college of my choice and I really enjoyed the quality of education I was able to access there.  And it was hugely validating to my ego to have set the goal of getting in there and then doing it.

On the other hand, too much of my ego is tied up in educational prestige.  That all happened 25-30 years ago, and it has limited influence on my happiness today.  Except I do still like books and learning and I appreciate having intelligent friends who are good human beings that I made back during college and grad school.  But it also put me in a peer group of people who have gone out and ruled the world, and sometimes I fall victim to measuring myself against them and feeling like shit about myself.

I also made some wacky career decisions that have at times complicated my life later.  Part of me wants to counsel her to be practical in her career decisions so that she doesn't live her life like a temporal pretzel, as I sometimes feel I have.  But she's not even 15 yet.

There are lots of people I know who didn't go to fancy schools and who seem to have done just fine in life.  Who knows if they are confused on the inside. One must be careful not to judge one's insides against other people's outsides, as I am at times wont to do (for example, 2 paragraphs ago)

My dad, particularly in his later poet phase, and probably when we were younger and I was tuning him out, often espoused living the simple life and eschewing materialism.  When we moved back to NC, he told me that Chapel Hill was basically corrupted by the rat race and that Hillsborough was a better place.  Sometimes I wonder if he was right.  But it was impossible to listen to him because he was so overbearing and insufferable in so many ways, he listened so poorly.  Most likely, there's probably a "grass is greener" aspect to that argument.

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