A short shelf life

My wife and I are completing an application for our son’s admission to preschool. That is a sentence I never imagined I would write, but I’m following my own advice about matchmaking. It’s not a prestigious preschool (if there is such a thing), and they don’t make ridiculous claims about preparing toddlers for future Ivy League admission. We’re applying because it aligns with our educational and social values like curiosity, equity, and diversity in a way that we haven’t found in other local schools.

But as I’m completing the required parental essay questions and securing the necessary letter of recommendation (again, things I never imagined doing for a preschool), I’m reminded of just how personal admissions decisions can feel.

If the answer comes back yes, we’ll be excited. But we’ll also treat it as just one day in a long string of days to come. No single arrival of admissions news represents a guarantee of future success or happiness. He and his parents will have a lot of learning and work left to do to extract the value of whatever opportunities—educational or otherwise—present themselves.

But if he’s not granted admission, I know that my natural parental instinct will be some combination of dejection and defensiveness.

What did we do wrong?

How could they not admit him? He’s so wonderful! 

What did other kids or parents have that our family didn’t have?

It won’t be easy to do, but I’ll still follow my own advice and reign in these emotional reactions. I’ll remind myself that admissions decisions don’t measure the worth of a student or a parent. They don’t validate or invalidate what’s taken place to date. And most importantly, I’ll remember that no reasonable adult can claim to have suffered long-term damage from one GPA, test score, or admissions decision.

I acknowledge that it should be easier to embrace these lessons when our son is in preschool, and that it will be a lot more difficult when the news arrives from colleges.

But whatever happens, he and his parents will be just fine. So will you and your kids.

Education has a lifetime value. But admissions decisions—good or bad—have a short shelf life.