When I was pregnant with my oldest child, Brandon, I traded in my red Mustang convertible for a beige Grand Caravan. Little did I know at the time, this super-sized vehicle would become my stockcar for the Mommy 500 - an eighteen-year race whose finish line is painted in acceptance letters to prestigious universities.

The first time I revved my engines in this marathon was two weeks into my maternal career, when I received a letter from an enterprise that I'll call Gymbananas. "It's never too early to begin thinking about college," read the primary-colored flyer, which went on to list course offerings for infants ages six-weeks and up. Yes, Gymbananas had a special message for me – a sleep-deprived, hormonally challenged new mother – and it was that if I denied my baby adequate exposure to bubbles and clapping songs before he learned to roll over, I would irreparably hinder his chances of getting into Harvard. Before I could say Oy Vey, I was giving a perky woman on the telephone my credit card number to secure my son's spot in the Wednesday morning pre-crawler class.

Before I could say Oy Vey, I was giving a perky woman my credit card numberI was at Brandon's kindergarten Rosh Hashanah celebration (my first official program as a grade school parent) when it became painfully evident that my Gymbananas era had been but a leisurely practice lap along the Mommy 500 and I would now be flooring my pedal to the metal.

"So what are Brandon's fall extracurriculars?" asked the mother sitting next to me in the apples and honey corner.

"He's playing soccer. What about Jeremy?" I replied following Mommy etiquette to a T.

"Well, let's see," she answered, trying (unsuccessfully) to sound nonchalant. "Jeremy's fall extracurricular sport is tennis, his fall extracurricular instrument is violin, his fall extracurricular martial art is tae kwon do, and his fall extracurricular academic is science."

Before I could determine whether an extracurricular academic was an oxymoron, my wheels were racing. I spent the rest of the morning signing Brandon up for an array of extracurriculars, and trying to figure out how I'd managed to walk out of the kindergarten Rosh Hashanah celebration indelibly inscribed in the Book of Stress.

A Message from Bubbe

"And vy should you be inscribed in the book of Stress? " my bubbe asked as I explained why I'd arrived so farklempt to Shabbat dinner. "If a race is making you meshugena, then drop out of the race!"

She clearly doesn't get it, I thought to myself. And how could she get it? How could someone from a simpler generation even begin to understand how it feels to have everyone from Gymbananas executives, to media moguls to the other moms in carpool line reminding me that if I don't fuel up my kids with everything from pinch-potting to pitching lessons, they'll be left in the dust come college application time?

And then there's that whole over-achievement thing. I mean I grew up at the height of the women's lib movement - raised to be strong and in charge, driven and successful. How could my ninety-five-year-old grandmother possibly see that I'd put every bit of that energy and determination into my life choices, my education, my career - and I wasn't about to drop the ball when it came to my kids?

Wait a minute! Where was Brandon's age group?And so I plugged ahead, dutifully devoting every afternoon and weekend to schlepping my family from activity to activity in the name of achieving perfect children (perfect defined as academically-gifted, athletically-exceptional, musically-prodigious, socially-popular and self esteem-saturated).

Then, one day, many years and laps around the Mommy 500 track later, I had an epiphany. It was the annual soccer registration day and my three boys and I (Baby Emma in tow) were - for the eighth year running – spending a steamy July afternoon waiting in line to ensure they made it into the most prestigious league in the area. Finally at the registrar's desk, I grabbed the applications and began filling out the elaborate forms. First Jake, then Alex, then Brandon… Wait a minute! Where was Brandon's age group?

Certain the absence of my oldest son's division was a misprint, I pointed out the mistake to the check-collecting registrar. "Sorry," the woman told me, "Metro Soccer doesn't have a middle school division."

"But what am I supposed to do?" I said. "Brandon has played soccer every fall since he was three. How will he spend his Sundays?"

"My kids like the lake," she said. "It's much less crowded in the fall. The beach isn't too far either."

Before I could reply that going to the lake seemed like a silly waste of time that could be otherwise spent fine-tuning soccer skills, Brandon chimed in. "You know, Mom, that does sound kind of fun."

"What sounds fun?" I asked, glancing back at the sea of anxious parents, fingers itching for those golden application forms.

"Going to the lake."

"And the beach!" added Jake.

"Yeah!" said Alex, "I could finally use the new boogie board I got for Chanukah two years ago!"

Suddenly, I felt myself entering a transformational spin, fueled with the realization that the check-collecting registrar - and Brandon, Alex and Jake - were absolutely right. It would be fun to spend Sunday afternoons at the lake rather than at the soccer field for a change. In fact, it would be more than fun; it would be positively liberating.

My ultimate goal was not to raise spelling bee championsI could finally see that I'd been paralyzed by the inflated expectations of our over-achieving, anxiety-filled culture; that I'd been basing the decisions I made for my children on what other people thought rather than on what I knew in my heart to be true. I alas understood that my ultimate goal in parenting was not to raise spelling bee champions, prom queens and soccer stars but to bring up fulfilled, resilient, empowered kids.

In this newfound insight, I discovered the strength and courage I needed to take my bubbe's advice to heart and step out of the race for kiddie perfection. I was alas able to ease up on the pressure, scale back the extracurriculars, and begin enjoying my children for who they are today (not who I hoped they would be at high school graduation).

I'm not going to lie to you. Steering clear of the Mommy 500 has not been easy. Especially with all those other racers whizzing by me on the track! But I've managed to do it, and so can you. All it takes is some good, dependable AAA Roadside Assistance. That's right, AAA. Accept, Avoid, Accentuate. All the tools you need to keep your family safe, grounded and miles away from the race lights.