I was walking Pepper with my kids the other day after school. Ronan was skateboarding, Pepper was harassing Tess at the end of her leash, when we ran into another family from our school – a dad with 2 kids, riding their bikes. There is big bench swing in front of their neighbor’s house. All 4 kids flocked to it while I chatted with the dad about parent-teacher conferences (ugh!) and schools. (double ugh!)
“Be careful,” I called out to Ronan who was pushing the three smaller children on the swing, muscling them as high as one of those carnival rides. “Ronan, watch your head.” The kids on the swing screamed.
Then the dad who lives in that house pulled up in a newly dented Mini-van. “I got in a fender bender,” he said, frowning at his crumpled bumper.
“Bummer,” we said. “At least no one was hurt.”
His two little girls came out of the house with three adorable mutts.
“Thanks for letting them swing. He’s a big boy,” I said, knowing that this dad had little girls. He had probably never seen his swing fly like that. “Ronan, that’s too high,” I said.
They gave up the swing for the mutts and ran around the corner to the backyard.
“I have a friend who is the dean of admissions at The University of Chicago – we were friends at Yale and he used to be the dean of admissions there,” the first dad continued our conversation. “He says that there are so many perfect SAT scores now, that they don’t even consider the other applicants.”
Perfect score? I thought, remembering our conferences: Tess is too social; Ronan can’t spell. Shit.
“They only really know two schools in LA: Marlborough and Harvard-Westlake”
Those are highly academic, very expensive, pressure-cooker prep schools.
“Those are like $30,000 a year. Times two.” I said, between deep breathes. “Even if I could afford it, I don’t think either of my kids is that kind of kid.”
We could hear squeals of laugher from the backyard.
“We have a friend at Marlborough who’s only applying to two schools: Santa Cruz and UNC Ashville.” I said. “She said she was sick of working so hard all the time and wanted to have fun,” I said. “I’d be thrilled if Ronan went to Santa Cruz .
“I only applied to one school,” the dad with the dented car said, “Santa Cruz. But I left after a year because it wasn’t progressive enough. I figured if they’re trying to be a second-rate Berkley, I might as well just go to Berkley. So I transferred.”
“But no one can get in to Berkeley now,” I said. “You need to have like a 6.0.”
“Well not really 6.0. But GPAs are inflated now, with the APs factored in.” I was joking, but really, I was terrified. “I’d be happy if Ronan went to Santa Barbara,” I said.
The dads chuckled.
UC Santa Barbara is actually really hard to get into. It’s known as a party school, but I didn’t go to party school and I sure partied a lot. Santa Barbara is beautiful; they have an incredible faculty, and for California residents, it’s super cheap.
“But your kid will just end up a stoner,” the Yale dad said.
“Don’t they smoke pot at Yale?
“Yeah, but they have a safety net – even stoners with a Yale degree will get a good job.”
“Where are my kids?” I looked around. I looked at my watch. His wife also went to Yale, I remembered. She told me she “Fell into screenwriting. It was easy.” They are lovely people, truly, but this was seriously stressing me out. “Kids, we’ve got to go. We’re late.”
Ronan grabbed his skateboard, put on his helmet and did an ollie. “Mama, did you see that?”
“I went to MIT for grad school,” the Berkeley dad said. “The undergrads are miserable. They’re either drunk, or they commit suicide. I think they have the highest rate of suicide.”
“I thought that was Cornell,” I said, picturing some kid standing at the top of a bridge in Ithica, NY.
“Do they have a ranking for which school has the most suicides?” the Yale dad said and we laughed, but it wasn’t really funny thinking about the kind of pressure that drives kids to leap into a gorge. “Did you see this year’s list of top Universities?” he said. “What happened to Brown? It used to such a great school. Now it’s 15th.”
“I have to go,” I said, looking at my watch. I tugged Pepper away, Ronan skateboarding at my side. “Tess?” I yelled, already around the corner, heading down the hill to my house. “Come on, sister. We’re leaving,” I yelled.
She came bounding out of the back yard with a giant smile on her freckled face. “I made new friends,” she beamed. Ronan carved the curb at the bottom of the hill.
The Berkeley dad had mentioned that he home-schools his kids because: “School is one giant scam.”
Like Three Card Monte. Like there’s no way to win.
I try to believe that it will all work out, that ollies and mutts and new friends are as important as test scores and grades. But somedays I’m just not that evolved and conversations like these freak me out!