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Suburban Dad: Tiptoe Through the Scholarships

My ninth grade daughter has been obsessively playing the ukulele. Just my luck, huh? My kid picks up the only obscure instrument that doesn't potentially lead to a college scholarship.

What, does the oboe bite?

My daughter’s frittering away the time as a Tiny Tim wannabe brings up an interesting question: when a kid starts on the road to college, how do you balance building her resume, especially if you fancy yourself a conscientious objector to those $10,000 summer junkets on which your kid digs a well with one hand as they write their college essay with the other, while leaving her alone to quirks of character?

Look, here’s what we know: way too many kids in Westchester and Connecticut have stylized childhoods, with every last activity designed to window dress their college application.

Their lives are ironed free of oddball tendencies, unless, of course, they can prove marketable to the Ivies. But what’s lost in the process?

I know, I know: as a journalist I should be answering questions, not asking them.  But I’m a parent first and any parent who tells you they have all the answers

In any case, it’s easy to lament how easily we conform to a life of paint-by-the numbers aspirations. The race may be to nowhere, but we all want to win—and the race runs along a predetermined course.

As distressing as this is, it’s equally hard to hitch a ride on any countervailing trend.  In life -- especially when it comes to our children’s futures -- exercising restraint or tilting against convention is always easier said than done.

That’s why when it comes to child rearing, especially in the lead-up to college, the distance between our instincts and actions can grow uncomfortably vast.

Fortunately, in the end, our children rein us in. When I came right out and asked my daughter why she chose the only obscure instrument that offered no chance of college scholarship, she fixed me with a ninth grade glare that put me on notice. “I am also thinking,” she said, “about picking up the steel drums.”

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