I don’t know why, but back then I somehow thought once our children were fully bipedal and off to school, the “Is my kid better than yours?” subtext of parental interactions would abate. After all, so many of those early interactions could be chalked up to nervous new parenting — a need for reassurance that if you just wore the baby sling enough hours a day, the rewards will later reveal themselves in SAT scores.
Instead, school only ramped up the opportunities for quantifying our children’s merits and checking how they stacked up against those of other kids. Before long, I saw families eagerly applying for gifted and talented programs, signing on for immersive experiences in exotic lands, and humblebragging about crushing loads of homework. I once had a mom tell me, at a party, “You get what you pay for,” when I said my daughters were in public school. I had another tell me to my face her son had been “bored” by the academics at the school my children attended, so she had to find someplace “more challenging.” I’ve been grilled on why my kids didn’t play sports. Because I want to ruin their opportunities, I guess.
My kids have experienced this Type A attitude from adults as well. When my elder daughter interviewed for a well-regarded local middle school a few years ago, the administrator asked her what she believed she could bring to the institution. “Like, in my backpack?” she asked, puzzled, before revealing, “Well, I have a lucky koala bear.” I still wonder, what would the right answer have been? What’s the best way for a 10-year-old to sell you on how she will elevate your sixth grade class? She didn’t get in.