Overcoming a Helicopter Mom:  A Study in Fortitude

May 21, 2017

Hanna Elizabeth O’Connor is graduating from high school in a few weeks and will be going to college in the fall.  The college application process was brutal, but Hanna handled it with great poise and maturity, and she can hold her head up high.  Her mother, not so much.

Throughout the last year, I’ve attended meetings at Hanna’s school hosted by the college counseling staff; I’ve read a lot of books, listened to podcasts, and availed myself of all the resources out there for students and parents navigating college admissions.  Much I’ve what I’ve heard and read, I already sort of knew from doing this once before with our oldest daughter, but I did learn at least one new thing, and that’s the fact that I’m exactly the sort of parent that none of want to or should be.  Turns out I’ve broken just about all of the 10 Commandments for Parents of College-Bound High Schoolers:

  • We are supposed to let our students drive the process, figure things out for themselves. This makes the process less stressful.
  • We’re supposed to avoid any and all contact with admissions offices and admissions personnel, because this can impact their chances of admission, and hey, that’s stressful, too.
  • We’re supposed to not nag our kids to death about studying for standardized tests or whether they’ve gotten their applications in, even if it’s the spring of their junior year and they haven’t yet taken the SAT or ACT, and there are no other tests being offered until the fall, because it stresses them out.
  • We’re supposed to take our kids to visit colleges they and they alone select. We shouldn’t make suggestions, because this, too, stresses them out.
  • During those visits, we’re supposed to keep our mouths shut so as not to unduly influence them with our opinions. You know.  Because that stresses them out.
  • We’re supposed to be supportive and available to talk about the process, but only if our kids initiate the conversation. This is so they don’t get stressed out.
  • We’re supposed to encourage other well-intentioned adults not to quiz our kids about their post-high school plans, because that’s sort of stressful.
  • We aren’t supposed to talk about the process with other parents, even if the kids aren’t around, mostly, I think, because it’s impolite. But it could also stress our kids out, even if they don’t know about it.
  • We’re not supposed to tell our kids where they should or should not apply, or review any portion of their applications unless they specifically ask us to. Because of the stress, stupid.
  • It goes without saying that we have NO OPINION WHATSOEVER about where they actually end up going to school, except to the extent that financial considerations play a role in that decision. But if we have to talk about it, we should do it in a non-stress-inducing way.

In other words, we’re supposed to be preternaturally and ceaselessly calm and devoid of any emotional investment in the process that could potentially influence our kids’ decisions or opinions (or stress level) in any way.  Basically, we’re supposed to spend a year demonstrating a Zen-like discipline and detachment, and even as we recognize just how high the stakes are, we are never to communicate that fact to our children – ever.  In short, we’re supposed to so thoroughly model and embody this level of equanimity that if our children receive unfavorable results (which they won’t, so long as we do our part), they will accept them with the dispassionate composure of the Queen of England.

That’s a tall order, and if you know me even a little bit, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I failed miserably.  Just to give you an idea of the extent of my transgressions, here are all the things on the No-No List I have done in the past year – and please don’t judge me – I know just how badly I fucked up:

  •  I was regularly in touch with my child’s guidance counselor to voice my concerns and worries about my child’s list of schools and why she hadn’t received her decision from some schools that other students had already heard from, and to vent my frustration about decisions that didn’t go her way, and to express lots of other things I can’t remember but which, if my kid had heard them, would have stressed her out.
  • I encouraged her to consider schools that, in retrospect, may have been unrealistic options, not because she was incapable of being successful at those schools, but because I failed to appreciate that when colleges say they employ a “holistic” review of applicants, what they really mean is, “yeah, we really just look at the GPA and SAT.”
  • I talked to other parents – lots and lots of other parents (in fact, anyone who would listen)—about the process – a lot. I’m sure this caused her stress, even though she didn’t know about it.
  • I brought up the topic with Hanna on many, many occasions, even when I knew she didn’t want to talk about it. This stressed her out.
  • I kept insisting she process how she was feeling about not getting into this school or that, when she really just wanted not to think about it. My therapist – who LOVES processing stuff and gets paid to help people do just that, later told me that what I really should have been doing was trying to take her mind off the whole thing – et tu, Meredith?
  • I suggested she consider applying to additional schools. In January of her senior year.  I think that might have stressed her out.
  • I suggested she consider taking the ACT. Again, in January.  So, maybe some stress there, too.
  • I insisted she attend admitted students’ programs at every school she got into, even the ones in which she had no interest, and even though she was exhausted, overwhelmed, and so sick of the process she wanted to shoot me in the head (although she never actually said that). There might have been some stress involved.
  • I blatantly lobbied for one school over the other when she had narrowed her school down to two choices (although I said good things about the other school, too).

So, yeah.  I did all that stuff.  And guess what?  Hanna was stressed pretty much every minute of every day of the twelve months.  Mother of the Year, here, folks.  But you know what they say:  If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a terrible warning.

My failure to maintain the impassivity and level-headedness that all good parents are supposed to demonstrate for their children is probably the result of becoming too emotionally involved in the process, and I know this had a negative impact on Hanna, because when she received rejection or wait-list decisions, she was devastated, which can only mean that I did not do a good enough job at cultivating her self-esteem or ingraining in her an unshakable belief that a college admissions decision is not a referendum on her value and promise.

I felt inestimable despair as I watched what the process did to her, and as I heard a kid who had made high honors for fifteen out of fifteen quarters of high school actually vocalize the opinion that she was a “loser” based upon which schools said no.  I felt even worse as I considered the extent to which I was responsible for her despondency and feelings of hopelessness.  How many times did I tell her, in the months that comprised Hanna’s College Admissions Adventure, that she was the consumer and that no institution of higher learning – ivy-covered or otherwise – would ever know enough about her to make a truly fair assessment of who she was or as to her potential?  Apparently, not enough.

I love this child so desperately.  She is my baby – a precious, unexpected, thoroughly sublime surprise who must have known how much we needed her.  In 1998, Michael and I made the heartbreaking decision that our family would have to be complete with two children (as opposed to the three we had always imagined) because of our uncertainty at that time as to what type of care our younger daughter, Allie, who had just been diagnosed with autism, might need in the years ahead.  That decision notwithstanding, Hanna joined our family in March 1999, and the joy she has brought to us ever since has always felt like something of a miracle to me.

That she was, from the moment she first drew breath, the easiest and most accommodating child ever to have been born was an added bonus, but with Hanna – finally – I felt like the mother I had always hoped to be.  There was none of the first-time-parent anxiety that Caitlin, to her great credit, endured with such gentle and forgiving grace, nor the despair and terror and exhaustion that being the parent of a child with special needs occasioned.  With Hanna, it was different.  I was endlessly patient, creative, and wise, and I was far more concerned with being the parent she needed as opposed to the parent I thought the rest of the world thought I should be.  With Hanna, I pretty much got most things right, which is not to say that Hanna is a “better” child than Cait or Allie, just that she had the benefit of a mother who had gained greater insight, made better decisions, and was a lot less uptight.

And so, knowing that I so thoroughly botched this college application thing – perhaps one of the most important milestones of a young person’s formative years – is mortifying, and painful, and deeply upsetting, because I should have known better – in all honesty, probably DID know better – but did all the things I wasn’t supposed to anyway.

Michael, who is a lot wiser and less prone to navel-gazing that I, has listened to me castigate myself about all of this, and has asked me what might have gone differently if I hadn’t made all of these unforced errors?  Would she have gotten into more or better schools? Would she be any happier with her decision? Probably not.  But she might have felt less stressed, less overwhelmed, less bad about herself.  And that’s what bothers me the most.

In September, Hanna will matriculate at Mount Holyoke College – the choice of her older sister, my alma mater as well—and I know she will be spectacular.  I’m hopeful that this last year of her life will grow dim in her memory and that ultimately, all she will recall will be how much she loved her college experience.  I know she will do well in the years ahead, and I’m confident in her ability to rise to the challenges she will face as she makes her mark on the world.  I am also hopeful that she will forgive me my frailties and come to understand that if I have been less that I should have been, it is because of my inability to comprehend a college admissions staff that fails to see all that she is and will be.

We call her Puddy, or Beanie; we called her Wiz-Biff when she was little, because that’s how she said her middle name back then.  But Hanna Elizabeth O’Connor is not a mere trifle.  She may have a mother who probably needs inpatient psychiatric care, but she’s a woman of fierce intelligence, conviction, and fortitude.  She has much to show us.  I can’t wait to see what she does.

Mother’s Day in America

May 10, 2017

Mother’s Day is coming. Yay.

I hate Mother’s Day. I have always hated Mother’s Day. Well, maybe not when I was a kid – then, I probably didn’t give it much thought. But now I’m all grown up, and a mother myself, and I hate Mother’s Day.

I’ve written about this before, and I’ve explained that my feelings about this “holiday” have nothing to do with my Mom, who is a terrific mother, or my kids, who are terrific kids. I hate Mother’s Day because it’s a greeting-card, floral industry hyped holiday in which advertisers try to guilt us into buying chocolate-covered strawberries, large stuffed animals, or $99 necklaces in order to give evidence of our undying love and devotion. I also hate it because mothers who have lost their children, or women who wish they had children but don’t, or women who don’t have children because they don’t want them, end up feeling like crap. I’ve said all this before.

Why I am particularly hating Mother’s Day today, in 2017 America, is because I am so fed up with the hypocrisy of a society that pays lip service to the hard work of mothering while offering zero support to those who are in the trenches wiping butts, cajoling recalcitrant toddlers to eat dinner, making sure homework gets done, and teaching their kids what “misogyny” and “xenophobia” mean.

Ask anyone in this country – let’s be specific: Ask any white man in Congress about his mother, and he’s likely to wax rhapsodic about how she is/was the most nurturing, caring, loving person ever to have graced humanity, so much so that Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood hot mic comments were really, really offensive to him –as the son of his mother, you know – to such an extent that he just couldn’t overlook those comments…until, of course, it looked like most of Trump’s supporters could, and then, well, you know the rest.

Ask that same white congressman whether mothers are important or deserve our respect, and watch as he tees up to slam that softball deep into left field with his pandering stump speech written for the exclusive purpose of getting affluent soccer moms wet.

Ask enough people this question, and you’d really have to believe that in the United States of America, in 2017, where the idea of motherhood is exalted to such a level that a woman’s choice whether or not to have a child is fast becoming one that is not even hers to make, and you’d likely believe – if you knew nothing else about this country – that when one actually becomes a mother, she will find an endless array of resources to help her in her task.

You’d be wrong.

In this country, here are just a few of the things we don’t do for mothers, starting from the moment they get pregnant:

• We don’t require employers to provide paid maternity leave.
• We don’t offer subsidies for daycare, except to the very poor, and daycare is often the most expensive item on a family’s budget, after housing.
• We do not incentivize employers to provide more flexible work options for working mothers, such as telecommuting, job sharing, or extended career breaks.
• Unlike nearly every other industrialized country in the world, we do not provide universal public preschool, despite a growing body of research demonstrating the role that access to quality preschool education plays in child development and future success at school.

While we’re at it, let’s not forget that a majority of House members (some of them women with children of their own) just told us that mothers shouldn’t be entitled to mandatory health insurance coverage for pregnancy and childbirth, childhood vaccinations, or preventive care.

So much for supporting motherhood. And don’t get me started on those wacky Republican men in the New Hampshire state legislature who introduced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for a woman to breastfeed in public, or their colleague of dubious intellect, State Representative Josh Moore, who posted on his Facebook account that men should be permitted to grab the nipples of women who breastfeed in public. Though 49 states have enacted legislation to protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, “family values” conservatives continue to rail against this most motherly of acts. You know. Because when women breastfeed in public, what they’re really trying to say is, “Hey, stud. I am feeling so sexy right now. Wanna fuck?”

Mothers in the workforce don’t fare much better. One study found that working mothers typically earn less than women without children, even when other factors such as education and work commitment are taken into account. Another study determined that mothers were often more likely than non-mothers to be regarded as less competent and poorly motivated to succeed. A third concluded that women take a “motherhood penalty” when they have children to the tune of a 4% drop in salary for each child they have.

These facts demonstrate unequivocally what Americans really think of motherhood, flowery platitudes notwithstanding, because they are reflective of governmental policy that has no interest whatsoever in helping families, and mothers in particular, be successful. If Americans truly wanted universal paid maternity leave, and quality, affordable child care subsidized by the government, they would elect leaders who advocate for such legislation, but they don’t. Those policies may sound great, but no one wants to pay for them, and for all those gooey, high-minded expressions about motherhood being the most difficult and important profession in the world, we do nothing – nothing – as a nation that would prove that we mean it.

Twenty years ago, Hillary Clinton wrote the book, “It Takes a Village,” advocating that the role of raising children is one in which we should all be deeply invested. She got a lot of criticism from the “in my day, we took care of our kids by letting them stick screwdrivers in electrical outlets while we smoked and drank martinis, and they turned out just fine” crowd, most of whom thought she was suggesting that mothers should abdicate their responsibilities to the State because they didn’t feel like taking care of their kids. Which wasn’t what she was saying at all. What she meant was, “let’s help make it easier to raise kids well, because when you do that, they’re less likely to end up in a clock tower with an automatic weapon.” Or maybe just that society as a whole benefits. Anyway, what she was trying to say was, let’s help moms as much as we can. And the country said, “No way.” So we didn’t.

Things haven’t changed much in twenty years (and they weren’t great before then, either). We say being a mother is important, but we won’t open up our wallets to make sure that said mother is supported, has access to quality, affordable healthcare, or can make a living wage at an unskilled profession in order to feed her kids. There are those who would say, “if you can’t afford to take care of a child, then you shouldn’t have one,” and to those who would say such a thing, I would say, “then perhaps we shouldn’t be talking about defunding Planned Parenthood or refusing to teach contraception in high school.” But I digress.

The bottom line is, our country is hostile to mothers. We won’t say it, but our actions speak volumes. We really don’t like mothers in this country, unless they’re holding a clean, freshly-bathed baby who isn’t crying, and so to try to pretend that we value them by setting aside one day a year in their honor is a farce. If, however, you think about how we are encouraged to recognize dear old mom on her special day – with an empty gesture that tries to make up for the fact that we pretty much ignore her the rest of the year – perhaps Mother’s Day is a perfect analogy for how our country really views motherhood.

This year on Mother’s Day, I’ll be waking up and going for a hike, weather permitting, and then I’ll have dinner with my family, including my own Mom, 83 years old and still doing yoga. I’m not buying her flowers (well, maybe I will pick up some tulips, because she likes tulips), and I’m not buying her chocolates (because I already do that and she has a really big stash right now). I’m not actually giving her anything, but I am making a donation to the Global Fund for Women, because that would make her happy. If you care about mothers – your own, or someone else’s – perhaps consider a similar gesture.

And Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you so much.

Opting Out

February 22, 2017

Last week, my husband and I were fortunate to get away from the dreary, cold, grayness that is the East Coast in February, enjoying a five-day respite on a sunny Caribbean island, replete with tropical greenery, white sand beaches, and exquisite local cuisine. It was paradise to escape the busy-ness of work and home and family obligations to simply relax, read, and dip our toes into the cerulean blue ocean.

You would think that we would take advantage of this down-time to unplug from politics, social media, and the constant onslaught of television coverage of President Trump’s actions and the backlash generated in response thereto. We didn’t. Indeed, at one point, a dear friend responded to one of Michael’s posts concerning the latest from the White House with this apt comment: “Aren’t you guys supposed to be on vacation?”

Later that morning, as I was floating on my back under a cloudless blue sky, pondering whether to have the tacos or the jerk chicken wrap for lunch (decisions, decisions), I contemplated those words, and I began to ruminate (well, to the extent I was capable given that I was also attempting to keep my considerable girth afloat): Why did I feel the need to be constantly connected to the minute-by-minute coverage of the Trump White House? Would I be so assiduously attuned to every press conference, tweet, and alternative fact if I lived on some sunny, remote island where executive orders and cabinet nominee hearings might seem far less impactful on my day-to-day life? If I could wake up every morning to a breakfast of fresh fruit on the terrace, spend my days lying on a chaise lounge reading, and dine every night under the stars, would I have any interest whatsoever in what’s happening in DC? And, more to the point, if I did choose to opt out of the daily briefings, Jake Tapper’s tweets, and Rachel Maddow’s nightly wonkfest, would that be okay?

But I don’t live in a tropical paradise, and Washington, D.C. is but a three-hour drive from my home. I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I do, it’s hard to avoid any mention of Senate debates, SpicerConwayBannonSpeak, or protest marches. The talking heads are everywhere, including on my Facebook Feed, and indeed, I myself have frequently added my voice to the mix. To truly “opt out” would take a lot of effort: I’d probably have to quit Facebook and Twitter, which I could probably bear, but I’d also have to quit the New Yorker, which I couldn’t. And, let’s be honest: The Trump Administration has become much like a really bad car wreck – you just can’t tear your eyes away, and you keep wondering what’s coming next. Just as I think I have lost the ability to be shocked or surprised, I turn on the television, and there it is: Today’s serving of crazy, just waiting to be gobbled up like so many Cheetos.

It’s exhausting keeping up with all that is going on. There is so much “breaking news” every day, so many media outlets covering it, so many pundits offering their views and opinions. In an effort to remain as objective as I can (pretty much an impossibility at this point), I attempt to balance the sources of the news I consume, but getting accurate, non-biased information isn’t always easy. So much of what I see on Facebook has an obvious (and predictable) bias (in both directions), and implicit in just about every news item out there – whether on social media, in the newspapers, or on television – is a level of high emotion, be it outrage, frustration, or dismay. In the four weeks since Donald Trump took office, it feels as though we’ve all been under attack.

Not surprising, then, that many on social media have called for a ban on political commentary. They’d like it to return to a more innocent time, when people posted cute cat memes, how-to videos, and pictures of the family vacation. No more. Most of what shows up on my Facebook feed has something to do with the Trump Administration, which is partly attributable to the fact that most of my Facebook friends share my angst over our new president’s antics, and partly because that’s pretty much all anyone can talk about these days. The older I get, the more I strive for peace and tranquility, harmony and calm. There’s precious little of that for those who chose to keep abreast of the Trump’s White House. It’s more like the WWF meets a demolition derby.

And so I ask myself, should I “opt out”? For the sake of my sanity, should I resign from Facebook and Twitter until the current climate settles down a bit (assuming it ever does)? In order to become the mindful and evolved woman I strive to be, should I ban all news coverage on the family television and eschew all print media that discusses the Federal Government? The part of me that is exhausted, discouraged, and tired of my own voice raised in outrage says yes, Wendy, yes – turn off and tune out. Stop the madness. Just say no.

While I am sure there are many who wish I would do exactly that, another part of me (the one that went to Mount Holyoke and is a ball-buster) says, no. No, you can’t opt out, because that would be irresponsible. No, you can’t opt out, because someone has to hold our leaders accountable. No, you can’t opt out, because you love this country, and what’s going on is wrong. It’s wrong on so many levels, in so many ways, for so many reasons. That part of me says no matter how exhausting and discouraging and frustrating, no matter how much some of my family members likely despise me for my opinions, I can’t give up and give in, I can’t quit, I can’t go along to get along. I can’t, and I won’t.

It’s hard to imagine living like this for another three years and eleven months. It’s difficult to envision what our country is going to look like in 2020, or even 2018. Those who predict apocalypse, or a country that looks a lot like Germany in the 1930’s, or a nation in which we all speak Russian, may be right, though I try to convince myself that our United States have suffered far worse and nonetheless endured. Perhaps Donald Trump is a twenty-first century James Buchanan, with the promise of a twenty-first century Abraham Lincoln right on his heels. Maybe the Trump Administration will be the last we know of democracy in America, of a country of laws and freedom and justice for all, of a land of immigrants who welcomed all peoples to our shores, of a nation that has been a beacon of hope and opportunity for so many. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, we will look back on these days with sadness and regret, painfully aware of all we took for granted and everything that we have ceased to be.

I hope not. I think we can make it better – all of us, we can fix this, but it’s going to take a lot of work. So no matter how bad it gets, no matter how many rights the Administration tries to strip away, no matter how many executive orders and SCOTUS appointments and just plain batshit crazy nonsense that may be coming our way, I will be ready, and I won’t stop. No matter how many marches or phone calls to Congressional representatives or Facebook posts or whatever else it takes to right this ship, I’m not opting out. Not today, not tomorrow, and not because people think I’m shrill. I am in this for the long run, and I’m Not. Opting. Out.

The Ides of March

March 15, 2017

It’s that time of year again – undergraduate admissions season. This year, I’ve got a personal stake in the game: My youngest, Hanna, is a high school senior anxiously awaiting the results of a process that started over a year ago. On second thought, make that three years ago – from the moment Hanna started high school, admission to college is the goal she and her classmates have been working towards.

In the interest of full disclosure, Hanna goes to an independent school that she has attended since Kindergarten. Our oldest, Caitlin, went there from grades 7 – 12; we chose it for her because of its reputation for providing an excellent, progressive education, and her experience was so positive that we selected it for Hanna when she was 5. The school has been around for 250 years and its history is an important part of the curriculum, especially in the lower grades. It’s a wonderful institution, one with which we’ve been very happy for many years.

But in the upper grades, there’s no denying the importance of the college admissions process. Hanna’s school is assuredly more focused on this process than most public or parochial high schools, and the pressure is intense. At her incoming freshman meeting with the dean of students, mention was made of Hanna’s “college portfolio” and “curriculum vitae.” I was thirty years old before I knew what a CV was, and at the age of 52, I still don’t have a “portfolio.” I was a little put off that even though Hanna was only 14 at the time, we were already talking about the “c” word. In the hope of diffusing some of the inescapable and ever-present emphasis on college, we encouraged Hanna to focus on her schoolwork and activities she enjoyed, to make friends, and to have fun. She did all of those things.

When it was time to begin the process for real, neither Hanna, nor we approached it with the level of zeal of some of her peers and their parents. We didn’t hire coaches to work one-on-one with her to study for the SAT, we didn’t discuss her grades with her except to commend her for her hard work, the progress she showed from quarter to quarter, and the persistence she exhibited when confronted with an especially challenging junior year chemistry class. We were happy that she found a few activities that really mattered to her, ones she threw herself into with enthusiasm and passion. She wasn’t president of the class, she didn’t take a mission a trip to Honduras to build a school for underprivileged children, and she has never been the type of kid that screams “high-performing leader.” Her grades and test scores are far better than either mine or my husband’s were, and her curriculum has been unquestionably more rigorous. The “college resume” she ended up putting together is impressive, mostly (to me, anyway), because it indicates a serious and conscientious student who has continually pushed herself to excel and who has never taken her foot off the pedal, even as a second semester senior with two acceptances under her belt.

But there are eight more decisions to come, and the tension in the O’Connor Household is palpable. We don’t talk about, because she’s thinking about it pretty much 24/7, and discussing it at this point only makes it more stressful. When all of the decisions roll in, there are bound to be disappointments, and we are hopeful that they won’t be big ones. We’ve repeatedly told Hanna that she’s the consumer, and she’s the who will ultimately be making the choice of which school deserves the commitment of her time and our money.

For kids like Hanna, however – kids with parents who have made their children’s success in everything, from t-ball to tae kwan do, the central focus of the family – those disappointments, if and when they come, are bound to be the biggest of their lives so far. Nothing truly awful has yet happened to these kids, because we parents have made it our mission in life to ensure that our kids’ existence is safe, enriching, and underpinned in every respect by a deep and abiding love. Add to that the message with which they are besieged on an almost daily basis, by their teachers, their peers, and well-meaning relatives and friends of their parents, that where they go to college is the MOST IMPORTANT DECISION OF THEIR LIVES, and you’ve got a recipe for almost certain disappointment. Thus, when they don’t get into the college of their dreams, it’s heartbreaking. It shouldn’t be.

Every year around this time, I read at least one article written by a college admissions officer who attempts to convey to those who are feverishly checking their portals every fifteen minutes that neither rejections nor acceptances are a referendum on a student’s potential or ability. We are reminded of the stratospherically high number of applicants, which continues to increase every year. Statistics tell us that the chances of getting into a highly competitive school, even for students with “toll-free test scores” and 4.0 (or 4.2, or 4.4) GPAs, is unlikely. Of late, Ivy League colleges are accepting a mere 8% of applicants, most of whom, at least on paper, look like they should be shoe-ins for admission. With so many applicants and a finite number of spaces, though, 92% of those stellar applicants aren’t going to make the cut, notwithstanding that they are likely as capable of successfully completing a four-year degree as those who did get in.

The statistics are daunting even where less competitive schools are involved. These days, students with high grades, test scores, and a laundry list of diverse activities may find that the “safety schools” of the past are today’s “target,” or even “reach” schools. With so much out of our control, we try to believe that no matter where our kid ends up, it’s not a statement about them as scholars, or about us as parents. It we’re being honest, however, we all think about how good it would feel to say, “my kid’s going to Yale,” because everyone knows what that means – that we’re good parents who raised our brilliant, accomplished kids right.

The thing is, most of the people I know (including me) didn’t go to an Ivy League college, or even a school that ranks in the top 10 of a US News and World Report list. Most of my closest friends and colleagues went to “good schools,” but not ones that are hyper-selective or universally acknowledged as the standard bearers for academic excellence. What’s more, most of those same people (again, including me) also got rejected by their first-choice school. Neither Caitlin, nor some of her closest friends, ended up at the college they thought they’d die if they didn’t get into, but you know what? Somehow they managed to survive. Somehow, they ended up loving the second- or third- choice school they ultimately attended, and after a mere semester there, couldn’t imagine themselves anywhere else.

What I’ve concluded from all of this is that many parents and kids hope to be admitted to the “top colleges” because they think it’s proof that they’re smart and gifted and are going to be successful no matter what career path they choose. Most, however, are going to have to be happy with a “not an Ivy school, but probably still capable of providing a quality education,” and the thing is – they will be. Regardless of how much we might like to believe that getting into one’s first choice is the key to a happy and successful life, the reality is, whether or not you have a happy or successful life has less to do with where you go to college and a whole lot more to do with what you do once you get there.

We’re going to try to relax over the next few weeks and let what is going to happen, happen. In a few short months, Hanna will graduate, and a few months after that, we’ll pack her up and drop her off at college. No matter where that ends up being, come Thanksgiving, I have a feeling she’ll be regaling us with tales of all the wonderful experiences she’s having, and she won’t even remember which other colleges she applied to or whether she got in.

So all you high school seniors out there – and all you parents, too – take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay – I promise.

More Sheryl, Less Ivanka

April 28, 2017

So Ivanka Trump was invited by Angela Merkel to attend the W20 Summit in Berlin, where the First Daughter was booed by audience members after describing her father – that pillar of orange-flavored feminist goodness – as “a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive.” Ivanka responded to those boos with protestations that His Royal Highness, the Viscount Ermine of Fatback, had always been nice to HER, which is sort of like saying that the serial killer next door is a tremendous champion of people not being murdered simply on the basis that he never locked me in a basement and then ate me for dinner.

But Ivanka is a Trump through and through, and she understands the importance of family loyalty, even as it pertains to the guy who famously said he’d like to date her, has agreed that it’s okay for others to refer to her as a “piece of a**,” and once stated publicly that their greatest commonality was their mutual enjoyment of sex. All of which is really creepy, since he’s, like, her DAD and all.

So I’m not really surprised that Ivanka’s defending Custard McPumpkin Sludge of Horny Hound Mews, even though doing so significantly decreases whatever credibility she may have had in her own right as a designer of made-in-China shoes and – let’s be honest – a line of jewelry that’s sort of tacky.

What IS surprising is that Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel – you know, that lady with the graduate degree in quantum physics? – actually invited Ivanka to participate in the W20 Summit based upon her ostensible accomplishments as a handbag designer (an occupation, it should be noted, that also counts among its member by Jerry Seinfeld’s ex-girlfriend, Shoshanna Lonstein and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky).

It’s not even a little bit depressing that Merkel overlooked women like Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, or Ursual Burns, CEO of Xerox Corp., or Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, or Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft….I could go on. Despite the White Male Patriarchy that firmly remains, even in 2017, as the backdrop against which all American business and governmental affairs are conducted, it appears that there are, in fact, at least a FEW women who might have been BETTER choices than Princess Lightweight von TrustFund to represent our country at an international conference where women leaders explored issues such as gender gaps in the labor force, female entrepreneurship, and greater inclusion of women in STEM occupations. Yeah, I’m sure Sheryl Sandberg, who’s just written a terrific book on grieving and previously exhorted women to “Lean In” and demand their seat – and voice – at the professional table, had nothing meaningful to say on any of those topics.

But Angela Merkel invited Ivanka instead.

Ivanka Trump is an easy target, to be sure: How convenient her privilege, family money, and name recognition as the sole explanation for the unexpected level of success she has achieved at a relatively tender age (and that was before Trump supporters starting buying her merch as a show of solidarity with the man who financed those endeavors), especially given the lack of any evidence of formidible intelligence, talent, or sweat.

It’s also fun to hate Ivanka for always looking perfect, even 30 seconds after giving birth. The majority of us women who clean our own toilets and wipe our kid’s butts and noses often feel – justifiably, I think – some level of resentment that this woman, who can jet off to an international women’s summit on another continent without having to worry about who’s going to get the kids to school or make sure they have clean underpants, is always so well-coiffed, her makeup just so, and dressed so as to leave no question that there’s not an ounce of fat or a single stretch mark on her buff physique, notwithstanding three pregnancies. Yeah, she’s easy to hate, even though she’s sort of likeable, especially in comparison to (1) her father; (2) her brothers (the older ones, anyway); and (3) everyone else in the Trump Administration.

I would have expected more from Merkel, however, and I’m dismayed that, according to conventional wisdom, Merkel invited Ivanka to the W20 (instead of, say, Virginia Rometti, the CEO of IBM, or Sheri McCoy, former CEO of Johnson & Johnson and current CEO of Avon) because of the potential access such an invitation may later provide her for networking with President Pillsbury Q. Squeezebottom. Which also raises the question, why does Angela Merkel need ANY access to Frothy O’Sandwich Hands? She seems to be doing just fine without the smarmy comments and “I’m not gonna shake your hand and you can’t make me” nonsense of King Toddler McNeedaNap. There’s a possibility that Ivanka was invited so as to bring attention to the work of W20, but if that was the reason, maybe just invite Oprah Winfrey, or Emma Watson, or Beyonce, even? Same amount of publicity, greater intellectual heft, fewer boos.

I’m disappointed in Angela Merkel and unsurprised by Ivanka, but I am at least a little bit encouraged that the women who DID attend W20 called out Princess Fairy Dust and Pink-Iced Cupcakes for shilling for her creepy, disturbing father and trying to pass him off as a champion for women and families, when even bacteria, asparagus ferns, and mold spores know that he is neither.

The bottom line is, we don’t need to pay attention to Ivanka Trump, whether as window dressing at what was supposed to be a gathering of serious women, or as an apologist for the dryer lint that currently sits in the Oval Office. Ivanka Trump, minus her money and looks, has no greater pretense to be at the W20 Summit than any of the rest of us (in fact, she’s probably got less). We need to showcase women who set a standard of excellence, innovation, leadership, and courage, and Ivanka Trump is none of those things – not by a long shot. What she’s good at – trying to make her despicable father appear more palatable and less, well, despicable – isn’t worth entertaining, and none of us should be giving her any further opportunities to spout her dubious claims that the leader of the free world isn’t a misogynistic racist who would rather the poor, sick, and powerless just die already.

Angela Merkel, and all women who are in a position to elevate other deserving women, should keep that in mind the next time they’re writing out the guest list. Next time, ask Sheryl Sandberg what she’s got to say, and I doubt there will be any boos.