What kind of mother am I?

READER essayGetting into college is different these days.

A friend told me recently that she and several other North Shore families are sending their kids to a small boarding school in my neighborhood to give them a better chance to get into an Ivy League school.

Our oldest child is only in sixth grade. I hadn’t even thought about high school yet.

Then the other day, speed walking with a mom who has high school kids, I find out she has employed a college counselor for her boy. This is not the guy I saw in a crowded little office next to the nurse’s office who had a bunch of college pamphlets. This is a woman she hires at $100 an hour to coach her son on what his assets are, what school he should go to, how his application essays should read and what extracurricular activities he better get his behind in if he wants to get to his dream university. These activities are no longer Boy Scouts or swim team. Kids are going to South Africa to build houses for the homeless.

Another friend claims educational excellence for our children is a matter of national survival. Recently, she and her eighth-grader attended a mandatory conference on what high school courses should be chosen in order to get into college.

She said,"Everyone signs up for‘Honors’ classes now in high school. You don’t have to qualify to GET in, just to STAY in. If you get a‘B’ in Honors, it translates to a higher GPA score on your transcripts than a‘B’ would in a standard class. Plus, it just looks good to have a bunch of Honors classes on those transcripts as well.”

A fifth-grade teacher friend says parents push her to put their kids in advanced classes already. Her 10-year-olds are on the track to Advanced Placement in high school in order to get out of 101 classes in college.

“Most of them,” she says,"have a college picked out for their kids by fourth grade.”

If I’m not preparing my sixth-grader for college, what kind of parent am I?

My college is not famous, but I learned a lot at school. How to get along with a roommate from Salt Lake City who drank too much, how to branch out and create myself away from home and about good and bad choices with consequences that couldn’t be blamed on parents or siblings. I learned service and giving back to a community, how to get involved and how to be humble. Mostly, I learned how different everyone was outside of my little Minnesota hometown and how wonderful that could be. I grew up in college. Can I want anything more for my kids?

Right now I’m living through homework hell. I have two boys in middle school and one in grammar school who don’t believe in homework. We do about four hours of homework a night. Two hours I nag, two hours they sit down and do it. It seems our grammar and middle school teachers are under a great deal of pressure to get the kids"prepared” for higher education. My son had some"F’s” on his report cards for missing homework. All his other grades were A’s and A+’s, but the F’s in missing homework dropped his overall grade to a B. I start to worry.

I terrorize him with"You want this on your permanent record?”

Perhaps my sons’ permanent records are more important to me than my permanent record ever was. I love my kids so much that I want them to do everything great that I did and everything great that I didn’t"get” to do. I want them to have a semester abroad, a writer in residence, a unique and beautiful college town, a fantastic roommate with unbelievable parents, published professors who adore kids, a passion for a major and the talent and drive to pursue it without ever feeling that they didn’t give it their all. That’s all.

But then again, what I want is for them to be happy. Like I am. And now, besides drilling in our morals about sex, drugs and alcohol, we try to instill a simple love of learning (wherever it might take place) and a good work ethic. My husband and I talk it over in bed and laugh. We went to a school with 1,500 people that no one has ever heard of. We’re doing OK. We need nothing. But what do we roll over and dream about? Our kids.

And I vow, before I fall asleep, to work with my priceless sons harder on their homework tomorrow.

Maggie Stewart is a freelance writer and mom living in Lake Forest.

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