It seemed like a good idea at the time. Turns out, I was wrong.
I gave birth to a smart kid. Frighteningly smart. I wanted my daughter to grow up knowing that her father and I were going to do everything in our power to make sure she could be whatever she wanted when she grew up. We wanted her to be successful. What parent doesn’t want that for their kid?
Or course, when we start out as parents, many of us are young. Full of hopes and dreams and a bit of naivete.
Like so many other people, I couldn’t tell you what success was going to look like for her but I had a very prescriptive idea of what the path to it would look like. Scholarships to well-known, highly impressive universities where she would study great things and then people would clamor over themselves to hire her when she graduated.
Well, we got over that fast her freshman year in high school. We didn’t see it coming.
My daughter has always been an advanced student. When she was in preschool she was so bored we moved her to a private kindergarten so she wouldn't disrupt other kids. The public school district she was to go to refused to let her start regular kindergarten a year early. In retrospect, that made sense.
This meant she did kindergarten twice. Once privately. Once publicly. Teachers had to find creative ways to challenge her and keep her mind busy.
Honor programs started in 4th grade for her. It was a no-brainer. Her grades were perfect and her test scores were off the chart. She liked being the smart kid and she took a lot of pride in being accelerated. Until it caught up with her.
When she started high school, she already had taken two high school level classes as an 8th grader. She had to be bussed to and from the high school for Honors Algebra.
She had prepared all during elementary and middle school to land in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. It was a natural progression of events. Her high school was underperforming so having high number so kids taking honors courses helped the school. We learned that later.
There was so much we weren’t told. Like that weighted grades meant nothing. It didn’t matter if all of her classes were accelerated. It mattered what the grade on her report card. Those grades were dismal.
Her first year in high school, she buckled. The program was way too strenuous and she was trying to balance her workload with being a varsity athlete. Those are rare in her IB classes.
She was miserable. No one seemed to care. We got the sneaking suspicion that having her in the honor program benefitted the school more than it did her.
What we realized too late was that she’s never going to cure cancer, sit on the Supreme Court, or invent some amazing new technology. It’s not that she can’t do it. She doesn’t want to.
In the middle of her freshman year, she had a meltdown. Stress took hold of her and knocked her to the floor, literally. She couldn’t take it anymore and I felt horrible guilt as a parent as I sat on the kitchen floor with her as she cried.
She felt pressured by us that she had to do well. Her teachers were hard on her because honors kids should be able to take it. They should rise up. She’s didn’t rise up. She caved in like a souffle out of the over too soon.
I held her on that kitchen floor and thought to myself, “I did this. I made this happen. She’s too young to feel this way.”
She starts her junior year in the fall and the writing is on the wall. She will graduate with a 3.0 GPA if she’s lucky. When she gets her college degree, her high school GPA and whether she took honors courses or not won’t matter to anyone.
We told her that next year she doesn’t have to take a single honors class if she doesn’t want to. It’s not worth it.
We feel like the system failed us. All of us. My daughter and her father and me.
No one sat any of us down when she started all those honors classes to give us a dose of reality as to what they meant for her, and what purpose they would actually serve to help her become “successful.”
And, certainly, no one told us that one single C on her transcript meant she was no longer eligible for a state awarded, full-ride scholarship.
Even though both her dad and I are former educators, we didn’t realize this would happen. We accept responsibility, too. We didn’t ask the right questions.
What I realized is that whatever her version of success looks like needs to be defined by her. She will find that path. I should have trusted her intelligence.
Certainly, there were benefits to her honors classes. Being surrounded by other kids focused on their studies kept in the company of kids who stayed out of trouble. But we shouldn't the presence of other kids to keep her on the straight and narrow. That’s my job as a parent. To raise her well.
I wonder how much of her boredom in school when she was small stemmed from not being challenged and how much stemmed from being unconventional by nature. She doesn’t do well in the confines of a box.
She told me wants to be a teacher. She has had wonderful teachers who have made a difference in her life and she wants to do the same for other kids. Taking Honor Calculus when you want to teach History in private school serves no purpose other than to be able to say you did it.
The only thing I want for her these last two years is to enjoy herself.
She’s 16. There’s plenty of time to feel the crushing weight of life’s obligations. I already know she’s tough. That doesn’t have to be tested now.
We’ve gone from thinking we were going to be sending her off to an Ivy League school to get a law degree to encouraging her to attend at least one year of community college and transferring somewhere for her degree in Education.
It’s a complete 180 from where we started. I wish I would have known sooner. She doesn’t have to be defined by how heavy her course load is. Twenty years from now, it won’t matter.
As parents, we should be realistic about our children. Instill in them the desire to move their lives forward in a positive direction but what that direction is, let it be good enough. If there’s one thing I will always want for my daughter, it’s that she always feels good enough.