Eavesdropping at Starbucks

On Monday, I had an early afternoon doctor’s appointment. I was still swamped at work, so post-doctor, I headed to a Starbucks near Charlotte’s school to get some more work done before calling it a day. After all, it was a lovely, sunny afternoon—surely my child was playing outside (and she was), and I figured she was better off playing on a playground than coming home early with me and sitting in front of the TV while I tried to work. So, I went to Starbucks guilt-free.

As I’ve alluded to before, Charlotte’s school, and thus this particular Starbucks, is in a rather ritzy area, nestled among some of the best (and most expensive) private schools in the country. Students’ BMWs, Land Rovers (seriously, I think the all-boy school nearby requires all boys above the age of 16 to drive a Land Rover), and Audis clog up my morning commute to Charlotte’s nondescript little school. Many of her classmates will undoubtedly join these elite student bodies. Charlotte, however, will return to The Sticks and attend public school when she reaches kindergarten. (And. I. Can’t. Wait.)
 So, as I slogged through page proofs, many small groups of private-school teens or tweens came into Starbucks for their $5 caffeine jolts. They were perfectly ordinary kids, perfectly polite yet perfectly loud. You know, just pretty typical.

At the table next to mine, two high school girls—in their Chilton-esque plaid skirts, navy blue cardigans, and slightly irreverent flip flops—logged onto a laptop for an online tutorial covering some math concepts that would be on this Friday’s test. The girls clearly knew each other but weren’t BFFs. Not much OMGing took place.

They quickly got down to business, though they agreed Friday’s test would be “no big deal.” Clearly hardworking, high-achieving kiddos, I admired them. I admit it—I like serious girls, and I like prep school uniforms.

I continued to do my work and didn’t pay much attention to them until they both sat back and took a mini-break from learning stuff.

“So, have you thought about your major?” Girl A asked Girl B. (Aha! They must be seniors! Oh, how I wanted to know where they would be attending college!)
 “Yeah,” Girl B said, with a bit of resignation. “Bio, I guess. You know, pre-med.”

Girl A nodded understandingly. “I know, right? Like, what else is there?”

Girl B shrugged. Just bio.

“Are either of your parents doctors?” Girl A asked.

Girl B nodded. “Yeah. Both of them. Yours?”

“Just my mom,” Girl A said. “But she said med school isn’t as gross as high school bio, you know? I mean, I gave up ham forever after the pig dissection.”

Oh, my heart! I didn’t know whether to rejoice or cry. Here were some of the brightest young’uns—girl young’uns—on the brink of adulthood, with every possible opportunity in front of them. Forty years earlier, I bet their conversation would’ve gone like this:

Girl A: “What are you doing after graduation?”
Girl B: “Eh, I don’t know. Get married, I guess. Reproduce.”
Girl A: “Yeah, I understand. I mean, what else is there?”

Despite having, from what I could tell based on one mere hour of eavesdropping, every door wide open to whatever future they wanted, these girls felt like medical degrees were the only sensible option.

I wanted to shake them. You can do anything! ANYTHING! Make it something you love, girls! Med school is for people who want to be doctors, not daughters of doctors who just feel obligated to become doctors! How about business? Economics? Interior decorating? Physics? Engineering? Religious studies? Russian literature with a minor in music? Something international? ENGLISH?! (Well, I can’t guarantee a particularly lucrative career for English, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Of course, I thought of my Charlotte. These girls had many traits I’d love to see Charlotte take on as she gets older: industrious, hard-working, mature, smart. But goodness. To be resigned to something before even heading to college? No! I want my girl to explore who she is and what she wants—and yes, I’m willing to fund four years of college tuition for her to do so, at the best school she can get into. I’ll even hold my tongue if she joins a sorority. (I kid, I kid. Sorry, I’m just SO not the big state school type.) Or, I’ll fund culinary school or Julliard or beauty school or whatever. The point is, resignation on the eve of high school graduation? It struck me as rather tragic. Funny, but still sort of tragic.

As I retold this story to Chris that evening, he just laughed. “Only in [pretentious city name] would becoming a doctor be the only sensible career choice. But then, better doctors than lawyers, don’t you think?”


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