“I want to go to Stanford like you, Mommy!” Katie exclaimed in the car this morning on the way to our picnic and springtime photo shoot in a lovely part of town. We had just been talking about the importance of higher education for women, how some through history have tried to block the education of women, the historical witch hunts (oh yes, I went there), the ways in which some groups depend upon women not educating themselves in order to perpetuate themselves, how a woman really can have it all but perhaps not all at the same time, and all other manner of feminism. Yep, I’m one of those. Out of the closet.

I wasn’t always as concerned about the rights of women, figuring that it was all up to the individual to make her way anyway…until I became a mother. Of a daughter. In a culture that STILL questions whether a woman should be educated fully, paid an equal wage, can drive an action film, or carry a Disney film without romantic love (at least that much has been decided this year, thank goodness).

The biggest irony is that I mostly follow a traditional path as a stay-at-home mom. For now. Yet that is only because I view “having it all” as living my life in phases. My academic phase. My pre-children career phase. My children phase. My next career phase. My writing phase. My travel phase. And any self-improvement goals in between times. I am the ultimate rebel: I actually believe I can make myself into almost anything I want to be…and enjoy it. No one defines me, but me. I wasn’t at work, suffering. I am not now at home, suffering. The very act of choosing is the pleasure.

But back to Katie’s declaration today. It is the first time she has articulated such a clear and specific educational goal. I was delighted for two seconds…and then it filled me with dread.

Many people have assumed, as evidenced by things that have been said to me, that I want my children to go to Stanford and that I have set that goal for them as ironclad. I’ve heard of alumni like that. Heck, when I worked in the Office of the University President, I used to read letters from devastated alumni whose offspring did not make the cut…despite millions of dollars of donations. There was a recent article in my alumni magazine about the ways in which alumni handle such news—some cut off ties with the university for years, or eternally. Don’t choose my child, and I will stop choosing you.

Entitled. That’s how I feel about that kind of behavior.

And it is the furthest paradigm from how I view my alma mater, my hopes for my children, or the reasons why we learn and challenge ourselves in the first place.

Even for an applicant with the most glowing set of qualifications, nothing is guaranteed. Stanford just admitted the lowest rate of applicants in years. Even if numbers increase, still nothing would be guaranteed.

The kind of parent who would make a child feel that it is all or nothing riding on the acceptance of a specific university is playing a dangerous game; yet, in my profession I have seen that pressure more than once. Although I am sure any parent just wants to be motivating in a positive way, I will not set my children up to feel like disappointments by playing this game.

So how to respond to Katie? I told her first that I am excited that she is already planning to attend college, and that the thing to do is to potentiate herself for as many colleges as possible. Work hard, find something you love and practice at it until you do it really well, follow your passions in your studying, and above all, and keep your options open. Stay open-minded. Aim as high as you can, and when the time comes, whatever happens will be right. If she chooses Stanford, and Stanford chooses her back, then great. Why? Because Stanford was really fun, to get right down to it. But many places could be the right place. Many paths, even those different from mine, could fulfill her.

I just want her to know that she has a self to fulfill.

As I told her today: Kate, some parents live in fear that their older children will not grow up to be exactly as they are, or think as they do, or believe as they believe. Sure, we hope that you might see some thing the way we see them, but we only want your agreement with us if you have done all the hard work of thinking, questioning, and living first. Right now, you need to obey us for your safety, and we want to teach you how to be of honorable character, but you are free. You belong to yourself. You will have to decide how to live and what to be. You will not disappoint us. I do not care if you go to Stanford, or not.

And it’s true. Some readers may still not believe that, and if not, they will miss entirely and forever the essence of who I really am and what philosophies govern my life and decision-making. Even what I think the purpose is of being alive…

One thing I know for sure is that I want to teach my daughter how to be powerful. My son, too, of course. But I can already tell he is going to be fine. It’s less a gender thing and more of a personality thing. Katie views life with more trepidation, generally, than her brother does. She has always needed more comfort. She talks a big game, but her insides can get swirly and she doesn’t always trust herself. Even her horseback riding teacher has picked up on this and gently reminded Katie that we never say, “I can’t.” Eric is more carefree and willing to laugh at his mistakes; Katie takes every mistake hard. I want to show her how to break free of fear and instead live a life of freedom, and I believe I can.

And so, we run:

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Katie has been doing so well during her training sessions! Sometimes I play various games with her to get her to pick up speed here and there and to stay motivated. 1.25 miles is quite a bit for a 6-year-old. But part of getting in touch with inner power? To have ambition and to set performance goals with respect to any and all parts of life.

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My intelligent, creative, beautiful girl…

 

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These two have such a fun (and often wild) dynamic. They complement each other, and I am so thankful for the pair of them.

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