Over Easy: Parents know you can never win with kids

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Friday, March 22, 2019

Oh, great. Now there’s something else for parents to fret about.

It turns out that mothers and fathers who want to give their kids a leg up in college admissions can do more than nag them to do their homework, hire pricey tutors, send them to Climate Change Summer Camp and pay for trips to developing nations for material for their college essays. (“Since completing my toilet training early — in the 99th percentile, actually — I have always wanted to save the world ...”)

Buying U.S. News and World Report’s college guide won’t do it. It takes a bagman.

The secret select parents know: Pay off test proctors, or hire stand-ins, to goose standardized test scores. Bribe college coaches to sham-recruit your kid. And that’s just for starters.

Federal prosecutors have charged 50 people in the Varsity Blues investigation, in which 33 well-to-do parents, including business leaders and Hollywood celebrities, paid big bucks to a “consultant” who opened a “side door’’ to leading colleges and universities.

I was home when the story broke, checking my laptop now and then, hoping that the next “Breaking News” alert would allow me to run triumphantly to my wife (cue Chariots of Fire theme) and yell, “Ha! Mueller’s got him now.”

But here was a distraction to get me through another impeachment-less day. “Get this,’’ I told Dede. “Lori Loughlin from Full House — Aunt Becky — and her husband are charged with paying half a million bucks to get their two daughters into college!”

I hurried back to my laptop to monitor the news. And reported back to Dede. The details about various parents and schools were really something.

“The feds say a soccer coach got $300,000 for a phony recruit!”

After another round-trip: “Some of the parents paid up to $75,000 to cheat on standardized tests!”

And yet another: “$200,000 to be recruited for a rowing team! They didn’t even know how to row! I wonder if they could swim.”

And this sweet detail: “Reportedly, Lori Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade was on spring break on a billionaire’s yacht when the scandal broke.”

I was giddy, and not, as you might assume, because spring break on a billionaire’s yacht brings back happy memories of my own college years.

No, this schadenfreude was sitcom revenge. Years ago my kids watched family shows like Full House that kept them happy and made me squirm. I suspected the stupid plots were the work of screenwriters who must hate themselves for selling out. Or were paid in cocaine. There was no other explanation.

As I slumped in a chair, wishing I could slip into a catatonic state, I couldn’t help but notice that Loughlin was pretty, and her character was nice as a kindergarten teacher surrounded by puppies as What a Wonderful World played in the background.

For her to get caught up in these allegations seemed to me like Mr. Rogers cussing out Lady Elaine when he thought the cameras were off. I mean, Aunt Becky was NICE!

It just so happened that I’d just finished a book for a Lebanon Library discussion group, which inspires me to actually finish works and not just fall asleep reading night after night until I give up. We’d tackled the eye-opening Putin Country, a look at the Russian president’s popularity in a city far from Moscow. One section said that poorly-paid university professors take bribes from students to assure good grades. Profs really don’t want them to flunk out, because they need the money. I disapproved from the comfort of home, 5,089 miles away according to Google, which thinks it knows everything.

Hah! Only in Russia.

Then came Varsity Blues.

As I turned to following corruption in my own country, a reverie came to me, inspired by the black market price of $200,000 for a phony spot on a college rowing team (and a side door to admission).

How much would it be worth for parents not to have to scramble like rats in a water tub for every edge during a childhood? What’s the value of 14 years of not standing on lacrosse field sidelines as flurries fly? How about 14 years of not staying in chain hotels in second-rate cities waiting for the next hockey game against who-knows-who and ordering another pizza that will make you wake up with a mouth as parched as a dying man’s in a desert? Or never having to think you’d kill to have your kid be valedictorian, if only you could get away with it?

Parents know you can never win with kids. It’s going to be “Mommmm, how come you don’t love me enough to bribe my way into a better school?” Or, “Mommmm, why did you get caught in that scandal and embarrass me in front of my friends?”

Or, “Daaadd, how come I only got recruited for the crew team? My roommate was recruited for the volleyball team, which is way cooler.”

I can imagine Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best (2019 version) handling this sagely: “Neither of you actually plays sports, Princess. Be thankful for the blessings you have.”

“Gosh, I guess you’re right, Father,” Princess would say. And the audience would have a good chuckle along with the laugh track. “Spring break on a billionaire’s yacht isn’t so bad. And I did get this swell crew team T-shirt!”

“Oh, Princess!”

“Oh, Dad!”

Laughter ensues. Credits roll. Lesson learned.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.