Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Personal Statement

Yesterday, Acquired Daughter asked me to look at the personal statement she is sending to the university she hopes to attend next year. Eldest Daughter, who wrote her own personal statement last year, helped her compose it and the two of them felt I might be able to make some useful suggestions about the writing.

No sooner had I read the third paragraph than I snorted in amazement. I enjoy playing sports, in particular, tennis and rugby.

Now, Acquired Daughter has a good build and, unlike me, perfectly good coordination, and I have no doubt that if she wanted to play rugby and tennis, she could. But the fact is, she doesn't want to play either, so she doesn't.

I pointed an incredulous finger at the offending sentence. "Excuse me, what is this about you enjoying rugby and tennis?"

Acquired Daughter had the goodness to look embarrassed. She told me that Eldest Daughter felt she should 'have a sport'. And really, I could not agree more.

When it came about that Acquired Daughter would be joining us for our year abroad, my hope was that she and Eldest would inspire each other to be more active. Although they are strong, capable girls, they also have strong couch potato tendencies and, given the choice of whether to spend a day hiking in the hills or sitting on the sofa watching Korean dramas on their laptops, there is no contest. I find this so sad. At their age, I was skinny and even more uncoordinated than I am now, and my parents did not push me to be more athletic. When I realized our daughters had inherited my husband's physical grace and coordination, my relief was huge. I should have realized that adolescence was just around the corner: even our youngest daughter now elects to stay inside instead of joining us for a walk. The joys of the internet combined with inertia and sheer teenage rebellion have given us three pommes de terre de divan.

Acquired Daughter won't go near water and she has no head for heights. That takes out hill walking and swimming, two activities that could easily be pursued here. Whenever my husband and I ask if anyone wants to accompany us on a walk, one or the other them will invariably come back with the following: I'll go if they go. 'They' -- needless to say -- never go.

Smart, huh?

"Listen," I told Acquired Daughter, "you can't write on your personal statement that you play tennis and rugby unless you actually do."

"Yeah, I know," Acquired Daughter admitted sheepishly.

Eldest, when cornered, bristled. "But she played it last year!"

"Come on, she played it only a couple of times and you know it."

"Well, we had to put something! She needs a sport!"

"Oh, I agree," I snapped. "You both need a sport."

"You know what I mean!"

"Yes I do, but you still can't lie about something like that."

"Why not?"

"Because a lie like that will come back and bite you on the butt."

"So how are they even going to know?" she sniffed.

"They'll meet her, eventually. And they'll see right away that she isn't a tennis or a rugby player. And then they'll wonder what else on her statement might not be true."


"What sports did you put on your own personal statement?" I asked with some trepidation.

"Same thing really."

I swallowed a sigh. Way back when our kids were small, we did everything we could to ensure that they would have active lifestyles. We took them swimming every weekend. We played ball and Frisbee in the park with them and we cycled miles together every Sunday; we watched them do ballet and gymnastics and jump rope for hours on end. They weren't exactly athletic, but they were very good. I was so sure they would grow up to be sporty, active teenagers, but how very wrong I was.

"Okay, so we'll take the rugby and tennis out then," Eldest conceded.

"There is an alternative, you know," I said, aiming for a nonchalant tone.


"You two could go out and find yourselves a tennis court. Rent a couple of rackets. Play some tennis." Please oh please oh please!

Dead silence.

"That way," I continued, "it wouldn't be a lie. And it would be great for both of you..."

Eldest looked up at me, appalled. I might as well have suggested setting fire to her hair and parading through the town backwards on a donkey.

Well, you can't blame me for trying. I suppose I can't blame them for trying either.



planetnomad said...

ROFL! We are not quite at this stage, but I could really see my 3 trying to pull this off. Why do teenagers want to sit so much? I am constantly at mine to go outside, but he would much rather sit on the couch and either play electronics, read, or look things up on youtube.

Christy said...

Ha! Wouldn't it be hilarious if a certain jolly red-suited visitor left a couple of rackets on the hearth?

Jacqui said...

I like Christy's idea.

I had a friend who loved to sail and did interviews for his college; he caught several kids having lied about sailing.

Travis Erwin said...

You know they can probably find an online game and "play" those sports that way. Least then they wouldn't be lying.

Dave Faulkmore said...

Elder daughter Acquired Daughter. Putting it mildly why are these pronouns important?

Who cares what they write in this letter. People lighten up.

If only Japan didn't persecute creativity i'd support the most outrageous fiction possible. However since there is a seriousness sickness going around, no matter what the kids do they will be shafted.

Poor kids to have to deal with all these overly serious people around them.

When can a kid be a kid.

Cheating is the best quickest way to master a subject. Go girls!! Go team!!

Mary Witzl said...

PN -- To this day, I can remember my auntie pushing my cousins and me to go outside and play when we were kids. I resented it deeply, and now here I am with my own couch potatoes. Good luck with yours --YouTube has a lot to answer for.

Christy -- I fear those rackets would just stay on the hearth. We got them rackets back in Scotland. They got used a couple of times, then left out in the rain.

Jacqui -- That cheers me up no end. I used to have a job processing people's CVs and I wondered how on earth so many people could possibly be so adept at so many sports, languages, etc. And skiing and sailing were at the top of the list -- maybe all of them lied!

Travis -- That's a good idea, actually, and probably the only way I'll get them to do any activity. And you're right: it wouldn't be lying that way -- I think I'll tell them to give this a go!

Dave -- Literally speaking, Eldest Daughter did not acquire Acquired Daughter, we did. And we are just as frothy light as we can get, but nevertheless, we are dead serious about not lying. (Are you in their pay?)

Meg Wiviott said...

If you think your girls are couch potatoes, you should meet my son! He used to be a nationally ranked fencer but stopped because it took too much time. Jeez! He comes home for winter break next week and although I've missed him (his first semester in college) I'm sure after a week of him sleeping until 2 PM and then staying up 'til 2 AM playing video games I'll want to kill him.

BTW - good luck with the college applications, not fun.

Kim Ayres said...

Does Dave's comment lead to his own business's website? If so, promoting the idea of lying, then pointing to your own business has to be one of the worst forms of advertising ever :)

Chris Eldin said...

HAHAHAHAH! Great try though.
Your daughters sounds really nice. You should feel proud.

Carrie Harris said...

Hey, at least you tried. And you got a good story out of it.

And here I am, TRYING to find a positive spin. ;)

Phil said...

Hi Mary. I struggle stopping my youngest playing too much sport. He is fitness mad and driven to be healthy. He's also likes to compete - though he is gracious in defeat.

Somewhere in the middle of our respective children there must be a happy middle ground that doesn't see parent driving miles and spending hours and pounds every week funding whichever sport is in season.

I have to say I enjoy watching him - but there are times when I would happily crash in front of Korean soaps - and I don't even watch the TV very much.

Adopted daughter - perhaps you'll be sainted!

All the best,


Robin said...

I love the teenagers looking appalled when you suggest a real sport instead of a "lied about" sport. How could you be so cruel?

We have an interesting variation on the sports theme. It's the "too dumb to play sports" variation. Alex tried to join the cross country team. He fell behind on the 10 mile jog and got lost. He ended up at a Giant Food Store, and called me with someone's cell phone. The coach was kind when he threw him off the team.

Mary Witzl said...

Meg -- Thank you for making that comment and cheering me up! I now wonder if I would feel even more upset if my girls had as much talent as your son in a sport and then gave it up; I think I would. My mother always insisted that you could not really tell anyone anything until they were ready to hear it, but that hasn't stopped me from trying.

Kim -- I agree. And although I really do hate lying, I figure if you absolutely have to do it, you ought to do it well. My kids weren't even doing it well, and how pitiful is that? (We've had this conversation before, you and I -- remember?)

Chris -- In all honesty, they are very nice and I am disgustingly proud. But who wants to hear about how clever they are, how much praise they have garnered for volunteer work, how beautifully they play piano, that they got first prize in their physics class, aced their exams, got more A-plus grades than anyone else, and so on? It's a lot more fun reading about couch potatoes, and a lot less likely to make me Most Hated Mother.

Carrie -- Hooray for positive spins, and good for you! I do the same thing myself and enjoy meeting other positive spinners. I am ALWAYS looking for a lesson or a fringe benefit or silver lining, and fear it will be a bleak day when I cannot find one.

Phil -- Oh if ONLY I could siphon off some of your son's energy and determination! I would be more than happy to give you a little of my girls' natural indolence and ability to remain stationary for hours on end. I can see how tired your son must make you -- like you, my husband ends up being the de facto chauffer -- but I feel so wistful just thinking of how much your son is doing and wishing my daughters would make just 1/10 the effort.

Robin -- That's not too dumb -- not by a long shot. I'll tell you what too dumb is. When I was in high school, we had to run a mile every Friday even when it was 103 degrees and we had smog alerts. Most of the other kids figured out that you could hide in a certain hedge and only do 1/2 mile. I only found out about this interesting trick when I was 25 years old. Imagine how that made me feel. Tell Alex that Auntie Mary thinks he's a smart kid and wishes she'd been a little quicker at his age.

Meg Wiviott said...

Mary - I think you should be thankful your daughters showed you the essay. Some kids would have sent it off, lie and all! Then, when your daughter got a call from the rugby coach you'd really be in a pickle!

Anne Spollen said...

Both my boys swam competitively for years and placed within the state. With adolescence came, "Can you pass me the pencil?" -- because they don't want to reach that far across the table.

I have said (out loud, unfortunately, so don't send this to the mother of the year committee) - "Is there anything on this planet lazier than a sloth? Yes, there is! It's the teenage boy!"

Maybe it's just teenagers???

Mary Witzl said...

Meg -- Call me mean, but if they HAD gotten approached by a rugby coach, I'd have grinned all over my face to watch them wriggle their way out of it. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't just keep my mouth shut when they do dumb things and then allow them to get their own chestnuts out of the fire.

Anne -- Believe me, it's not just boys! My daughter and I were sitting opposite each other in an internet cafe recently. Suddenly my cell phone rang: she was actually phoning me. She claimed she didn't want to call out to me, but I've heard her ask her sister to bring her an item five feet away from her hand.

Robin said...

Mary, Alex has gone out to find some hedges. I laughed out loud at the cell phone story. I call upstairs with my cellphone all the time! *blush*

Danette Haworth said...

Ha! I like your tags at the end of this post.

Mary Witzl said...

Robin -- Using a cell phone to call upstairs is a great idea and I'd have done this myself if I'd had a cell phone back when we lived in a 2-story house. Plus, I'm sure mothers get special dispensations.

Danette -- I've got all sorts of Maternal Angst posts! I'm sure that by having a blog, I've saved my kids from whole weeks' worth of invective.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary,

Well, I kind of see the pull to be "well rounded" looking on the college essays... they could use other things besides sports though - volunteer work? (or would that have them looking at you like a three headed alien on crack?)

Love the post, as always!

Eryl Shields said...

It's quite sad, it seems to me, that kids feel they need to lie to get ahead. I hope a good university will accept your acquired daughter for the talent and grades she has in her chosen subject.

Kappa no He said...

I love that they love Korean dramas. Those are all the rage here. So cute!

Mary Witzl said...

Merry -- My kids have both done volunteer work -- on occasion. Our eldest walked dogs for a woman who'd had a hip replacement and she helped me with the odd Christian Aid collection; both kids helped out at a soup kitchen for the homeless. But they don't do this on a regular basis and they're still bone lazy.

Eryl -- That is exactly how I feel. I was hopeless at sports when I was a kid; no way I could have included one on my personal statement. When they push kids to be 'all rounders' like this, they are pretty much begging to be lied to. But I still wish my girls would, at the very least, go for the odd walk. Sigh...

Kappa -- That's why they watch them! I feel a little annoyed: it's as though something has to be Japanese-vetted for them to think it's cool. Still, it's nice to have a break from endless anime.

Gaining Back My Life said...

Mary, your tales of life, however trivial they are to you, encourage me to jump forward towards another day.

Mary Witzl said...

GBML -- You are so sweet to write that, and believe me, your encouragement does a lot for me!

I can't access your blog, though -- help!