What’s the Lesson

Blogging is a funny thing. I usually write about anecdotes in my life, and the lessons I’ve learned from them.  Sometimes I’m funny, sometimes I’m serious, but at the end of the day, I hope I’ve told some sort of story.  On any given Sunday, I jot down possible blog posts for the week, and then I start thinking about them, listing ideas, whatever.  I had a particular blog scheduled in my head for today, but I realize that I need to do a prequel in order for you to better understand my position.  This is a hard post for me, because it is about a time in my life when I really and truly believed I’d failed as a parent.  So here goes…..

In New York City, especially Manhattan, children apply to public middle schools and high schools.  And yes, this mean at 10 years old what you do in school matters.  Every grade, every standardized test counts- these things will literally decide your future.  When  a child is in 5th grade they are taught the basics of a resume and what to do on an interview.  They spend two months touring schools figuring out which school is the right fit for them.  Then, In December, you rank the schools that you want to apply to.  After a school has received notification that you wish to go there, the fun really begins.  There are additional placement tests, there are portfolios, there are interviews.  Sound horrific?  Well- it is.

My daughter worked really hard in elementary school.  Her grades were consistently “exceeds grade standard”.  Her test scores were consistently “exceeds grade standard”.  She loved school- she loved learning. When she chose to apply to one of the most difficult middle schools, not one person batted an eye.  She was clearly a top student in the city.

The school she chose had both an additional placement test and a group interview.  The group interview would be about 5 kids in a room being asked questions.  Sounds harmless.  Except, my daughter was/is a more shy child.  She will never be the loudest voice in the room.

So you know where this is going.  My daughter did not get accepted into the school. She got accepted into a school that she did not want to go to- she only put it on the list because it is close to our house.   She hated the thought of the Middle School she was being “forced ” to attend.  She was sullen and morose.

We knew she did not get into the school because of the interview.  I knew the kids that were in the room with her, and I knew one of the children was always the center of attention.  My daughter did not know how to compete with someone who was stealing the show.  Why should she?  She’s 10.  So, a child with a lesser work ethic and lower grades received a spot in this school.  She didn’t understand how life could be this unfair.  This child never did their homework, was a troublemaker, and didn’t care about school- yet this child had received the golden ticket.

What do you think my summer was like?  Husband blamed me- because someone has to be blamed.  He said I indulged my daughter and I allowed her to be shy.  She was never going to get anywhere by being shy.  I won’t bore you with what I said back to him……

And the daughter.  She was devastated.  She kept talking about how unfair it was- how she deserved the spot based on past results.  She voiced why should she work hard if it’s all fate in the end.  She begged me to homeschool her.  She told me that only dumb people and convicts went to the middle school she was assigned.  (which wasn’t true- it’s actually an excellent school, just large)

I did not know what to do.  I was at a loss.  How do I help my daughter thru this?

As the first day of school closed in on us, I figured I’d try the proverbial “Hail Mary”.  I sat her down, and I said the following…”Life is unfair.  Get used to it.  More often than not- things will not go your way.  This is just the first example of how crappy life can be.  Should you have gotten that spot in the school?  Of course I think so….but I always think you should get everything you want.  I’m your Mom.  I think you’re the greatest force in the universe- and you will be that no matter what school you attend.  I know you feel like crap right now.  I know you feel like what’s the point in doing homework and studying and paying attention if it really doesn’t matter in the end.  So here’s the deal- you have two choices- 1) you can be sad sack.  You can enter the building but not be present.  You don’t have to do homework.  You don’t have to study.  You don’t have to pay attention.  At 2:40 you can leave the building, not take part in any activities, not make any friends.  You can literally do nothing the next three years.  Then there’s option 2)- you can do what you’ve always done- study hard, pay attention, get involved.  Make the most of the opportunities that are in front of you.  At the end of the day- it’s your ride.  You choose what to make of your life.  Which option you choose doesn’t affect me at all- my life does not change based on your life path.  My life is the same no matter what you do.  I don’t care what grade you get, or what you do.  In fact, it would be better for me if you are a slacker, because then I don’t feel compelled to pay for college.  That’s a whole lot of money that I can do other things with.  But which path will give you more options?  Which path will give you the opportunity to try different things, to figure out who you are, and what you want to be?  Here’s the fork in the road- you can choose to care about school, or you can choose not to.  The choice is yours.  But rest assured- you will enter that Middle School building on Thursday and I will not be home schooling you.”

My daughter chose to work hard.  She chose to get involved and make the most of the opportunities in front of her.  But it was her choice.  I just gave her the tools to think about how to make that choice.  I  was honest and open, and I didn’t try to sugar coat anything.

Tomorrow, we will continue the essence of this anecdote, but take it in a slightly different direction.

 

 

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A Proper Education: A play in 1 act

The Setting: A restaurant in New York City

The Players:

  1. Parent- Resides is affluent suburb of New York City, which has a top rated school district.   Mother of twins who are about to enter 7th grade.  Twins have always attended public school, but after first year of middle school, parent did not like the education they were receiving and has enrolled them in private school.  They will begin classes after labor day in new, expensive school.
  2. Me- I hope you know a little about me by now
  3. Father in Law
  4. The Husband
  5. The Daughter
  6. Husband of Parent

Players 3-6 are present, but for the purpose of this play, imagine them eating.

Parent- When I went to camp visiting day, I found out Twin Girl used audio book for her summer reading assignment.  Isn’t that clever?

Me- She did what?

Parent– You know- audio book.  She didn’t get to choose the book and she was really bored by it, so she got audio book.

Me– What….What….What book was it?

Parent-  “The Outsiders”?  I think that’s what it’s called.

Me- SE Hinton?  The Daughter had to read it in 6th grade.  Didn’t you read it when you were a kid?  Pony Boy?  It’s not a hard book.  It’s actually a pretty good book.

Parent– Is that the movie with Matt Dillon and Rob Lowe?

Me- Well, yeah- the movie.

Parent– Oh maybe she should watch that when she gets home (types what is assumed to be a reminder into her phone)  But don’t you think it was smart of her?  I couldn’t think of a good reason why she shouldn’t listen to the book.  Because she didn’t get to choose it.  Her other summer reading book was fine.  She didn’t need audio book, because she got to choose it.  She wasn’t bored by it.

Me- Ummm- she probably should start, you know, actually reading things.  Because she’s going to get assigned reading as the grades go up, and really, she needs to like look at the words on the page and…you know understand them, because what’s going to happen…..

The Protagonist (or antagonist- you choose) turns to the audience:

Me: WTF?  She was bored?  She didn’t get to choose?  You’re putting her in private school because she wasn’t being educated?  It’s school.  It’s about education.  Part of education is learning about things you don’t know.  Wait- isn’t that the definition of education- to learn about things you don’t know?  How are you supposed to grow as a person if you never go out of your comfort zone?  If you want to read something of your choosing, read in your free time instead of playing on your phone, with snap and insta and whatever other app is out there.  Sometimes we are bored.  So what.  Is there a job that is exciting every minute of every day?  Why is our society so fixated on not being bored?  And listening, while sometimes a lost art, is not the same thing as reading.  It’s just not.  Nor is watching the movie.  The object is to look at the words on a page.  Visualize what the author is saying- get the mental picture.  Look at the words- the structure- the punctuation.  These are a fiction writers tools- these are the things you need to look at.  It’s why it’s assigned.  And…speaking of…the teacher gave an assignment in good faith.  They are expecting you to read the book.  What gives anyone the right to not listen to a teacher when the teacher has realistic goals of a student?  I’m going out on a limb and saying that reading a book is a realistic goal.  And how can you, as a parent, say to me “Isn’t that clever?”  No.  It’s not clever.  Clever is writing a book.  Clever is inventing something.  Clever is creating an awesome science fair experiment.  Using audio book is not clever.  It’s lazy. AND….let’s not forget my favorite statement: “I didn’t see anything wrong with it.”  REALLY?  REALLY?  How about, there is not one thing about her using audio book that is right.  Nothing.  She has perfect vision- there is no impairment.  She knows how to read.  (I assume this because she does use snapchat- so there is some proof that she knows the alphabet and that letters put together form words, and word form sentences….wait- I’m actually not sure if she knows that, as she usually speaks emoji) How can you say she wasn’t getting a good education at the public school?  Does she know about work ethic?  Does she understand giving 100%?  Does she understand that you need to learn things in stages?  That education is starting with a base layer, and then adding, and adding and adding?  That reading a book is about completing a task?  And if she thinks “The Outsiders” is boring- what is she going to think about some other classic works of literature?

The Protagonist turns away from the audience, and looks back at the parent:

Me– When do the kids get home from camp?