December 6, 2009
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My sister, Chelsea, is the perfect daughter. In middle school she began to take up art and photography and worked a little on the school newspaper. In high school she was invited into the National Honor Society, edited and wrote for the school newspaper, had her art displayed in several shows, and got a 33 on her ACT. Naturally, she received straight A’s and graduated valedictorian, receiving countless invitations from colleges; Harvard even offered her a full ride scholarship. Instead, she chose to attend Northern Michigan University – which is both cheap and nearby – so as not to give our parents any unnecessary financial or separation stress. Through scholarships, she even managed to cover her entire tuition. Now she is a Junior studying computer programming, one of the leading job markets in today’s society.
Of course, my parents are very proud of her. They also expect me to learn from her and improve myself based on her example. I have to avoid making the same mistakes, seek out opportunities that are above and beyond those she took, the whole burrito.
But then, I could never live up to her. I was more social and spent quality time with close friends outside of school, something she rarely did. These extra trips to town wasted far too much gas. I wrote for and edited two separate school publications, plyed flute in the band, and got lead roles in two school plays. No one read the school papers, so why write in them? The band required multiple pep/parade band practices, not to mention concerts. These seriously impeded my study time. Theatre and band are frivolous activities that have no value in the real world. I was wasting my time when I could have been doing constructive activities.
I mentored children in reading and tutored peers in Algebra. I became a member of the National Honor Society, my local youth group, Natural Helpers, and Key Club. But then, these just added to my workload without really benefitting me or my education in any significant manner. Truly I was adding more trivial activities to my agenda instead of notable ones. I got a summer job, but it was only part time and minimum wage. Hardly something to write home about.
Eventually I graduated valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA, but there were four other valedictorians with the same GPA. I was accepted and chose to attend Alma College, a private university with a liberal arts education. Never mind that it was over five hours away from home and cost triple my family income per year. I never got into any kind of trouble, which must simply mean that I was good at hiding my significant faults.
Apparently, nothing I did was even close to good enough.
My teachers praised me. They always said that I was a great student to have in class. I received the Student of the Week award at least once a year, along with other honors. Why? I was hardly the only A-student.
My peers praised me. I had friends in all social circles. I was admired for my grades and constantly asked to help others with homework, so I obliged. This did not benefit me in any way.
My coworkers and boss praised me. I continually heard, “I don’t know how we managed without you,” and “What are we going to do when you’re gone?” Yet I was only there part time, had the lowly title of intern, and my long list of chores included menial tasks such as taking out the trash, reloading the paper in the printer, and recycling.
My parents didn’t praise me.
I was convinced this was how they saw my life. I was always taking two steps back without the one step forward. All of my extracurricular activities benefitted others while exhausting myself. I may have achieved a few things, but they were nothing my sister had not done before me. Never mind that I was awarded a scholarship based on my love of the arts, or that I received the Band Director’s Choice Award as a Freshman. They only ever complained about the bad.
At the end of September I moved into my Alma College dorm room. The entire five-plus-hour trip from home my parents spent arguing and complained about the length of the drive, money, and loan processes. When we reached my dorm, they complained about the size of my room. While we moved my belongings in, they complained about the stairs. When I met with my advisor and learned about my preterm course, they complained about buying a book for a week-long class.
Finally we stood by the truck, saying our goodbyes. My dad hugged me, and I heard something I never thought I would.
“I’m so proud of you, sweetie.”
I thought back to all of those times they could have said that, all of the times I only heard the negative. I wished they had told me earlier. I could have been happier, knowing they approved of my choices. I could have been smiling after my band concerts, or laughing with my friends while doing service projects. I could have had more support and felt confident in choosing Alma College instead of a cheap, nearby community college. I could have felt better about myself as an individual. I could have felt like they cared.
But if they had, would I have appreciated it as much as I did at that moment?

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