I Didn't Get the Child I Ordered

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When my first child was born, I had big plans for him --- world leader, great scientist. Then my sister sent me part of a poem by Kahlil Gibran. I have never forgotten its words:

Your children are not your children.

And then,

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
They have their own thoughts.

Especially for parents whose children are in the final months of middle or high school, the words of that poem are poignant. Spring is high school and college admission season. Very soon the yes or no will arrive, a verdict that seems quite final.


There is such angst over getting into the perfect school. Often, there is silent anger; even grief as parents come to see they did not get the child they ordered, so to speak. Every spring teachers see parents enraged that the fashionable school did not welcome their student. Parents mutely consider their children failures because they don't fit the "headed for Stanford" mold. Peers whisper about who doesn't have a chance at getting into a "first tier school."

Teachers watch the joy in learning wither as students receive rejection letters. The light in their eyes goes out as they have to settle for what their social group calls second best.

High school, college: these are only the beginning of the journey. Admissions tests measure one kind of intelligence and ignore others. Some young people putter along, only to discover their genius at age 25. Some thrive in the unruly mix of a big public school where it is safe and exhilarating to try on different selves. Some students know early their calling is working with their hands. There are infinite ways to contribute, to live a meaningful life. Admission to the "right" school is not a prerequisite.

Our children move towards a future that we can little imagine. As we shepherd them through the growing up years, we must remember our dreams are not theirs to fulfill. We may have launched them, we can guide them guide, but their direction is their own.

With a Perspective, I'm Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is head of school and teaches at REAL School Marin in Larkspur.