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.



43 thoughts on “What’s the Lesson

  1. I cannot imagine the stress. Growing up in rural Texas we had no choices. The elementary school I attended was one of two in our small town and students were assigned to one or the other depending on one’s address. One junior high school and one high school served the town.

    My own children had similar experiences except we moved a great deal when they were in school, so their attitudes and personalities were shaped in part by those events. We had school anxiety stressors, but not until high school when we began thinking about college.

    Your talk with your daughter was inspired. I doubt I’d have been as wise. Eager to read tomorrow’s post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s so incredibly hard to have these kids go through an application process when they are so young! And then they do it again for high school. I really didn’t know what to say to her…..I figured blunt honestly was the best way, because saccharine sweetness would be too transparent . Luckily, that’s been my worst moment as a parent. But there’s always tomorrow…..

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What vast differences there are in the world for 10 year olds. Some are allowed to be children, some are pressured with the worries of education, some are taught how to kill, some are married off to much older men, some are carers or workers already. What a great example we humans are! I’m going to be reincarnated as a cat!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. This happens to all kids to a greater or lesser degree. It’s not easy, but looking back we usually realize it’s for the best. We want to protect them from rejection, but we can’t. The world isn’t fair and a lot of times it’s not what you know but who you know. It’s just sad that 10-year-olds are subjected to this.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t realize it was like that for middle school. My dad grew up in Brooklyn and went to a high school for kids who were good in science. But it was based only on aptitude tests. I worked with kids in a private high school in New Haven and walked away happy that I sent my kids to public school. All they talked about was their anxiety and how much pressure they felt. I pressured my son to get good grades through eighth grade, but backed off in high school. Could he have done better? Yes, but I wanted him to be responsible for his own destiny.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. The middle school thing is more prevalent in Manhattan than outer boroughs because it’s easier to navigate , and high school admissions is equally as arduous. My daughter just got lucky in high school admissions. To say these kids are stressed is an understatement

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Wow, that’s sad. So much pressure to perform every day. But speaking of expectations, I’d be interested in your take on this: My birthday is on Saturday and I’ll be at a wedding for which I will be getting a new dress. Birthday dinner planned Friday night and son wants to go out with friends before leaving for college. I expect and want him to be there. Whatcha think?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Personally, I’d let my kid go out with friends. But I realize I’m very loose with this, and most people would disagree with me. My take is, I know my daughter loves me, I know we spend a lot of quality time together, and I know peer interaction is important. But I told you, I’m probably in the minority. I’d also try to figure out a way that kid could go out with me and then friends. And happy birthday!


  4. That system puts a lot of pressure on 10-year-olds (not to mention their parents). Not sure how comfortable I am with the idea of setting up cutthroat competition at such an early age. But you certainly handled it well, as did your daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s done to ensure all kids in the city have the same access to the best schools regardless of social economic background. In theory, a kid from the poorest section of the city can go to a specialized science school with all sorts of grants. It’s seen as the most fair way to properly educate large groups of children

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, that does make good sense and is certainly a noble intention. Perhaps the execution needs a bit of refinement to take into account that some kids are extroverts and some introverts, and that there are diverse learning and behavior styles.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I am like you in that I won’t (or didn’t) sugar-coat things for my girls. They needed to learn that life isn’t fair, that you don’t always get what you want/hope for/dream of, that you must work for what you want, that bitching about something doesn’t change anything ….. coddling kids does not make them into independent thinkers/doers. Well done, Momma!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Wow. That whole exam thing sucks. It’s amazing that that much pressure is put on kids at that age. Crazy. I think you’re a great parent. You gave her two honest options and let her decide. She made the right choice. You don’t always get what you want in life but i think it is your responsibility to make the best of it. You re doing a great job. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great mothering on your part! I can’t wait to read tomorrow’s post! Good for you! We’ve had similar issues here with sports teams and somehow it always turns itself around once they understand and deal with it. It’s like everything else in life. We can show up or not and deal with the feelings or not. I’m not black and white as I sound, but I am very much the type of parent that says, ok, get up, let’s brush it off and keep going when we can. Let’s take a few moments to be sad and then realize that maybe there’s another reason for this particular disappointment. A lesson to be learned. And usually, luckily, something comes along afterwards to prove my point! You’re a great mom! xo

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I have to admit that I don’t care for a system that puts so much pressure on children! Some kids grow up more quickly than others, so I don’t think it’s a particularly efficient system to “sort them out and rank them” quite so young.
    That being said, I do understand how hard it was to watch your daughter be rejected by her first choice school. My son went through the same thing, only it was not making the high school sports team he had dreamed of, and watching kids who did much worse in the tryouts get on the team. Not nearly as big a deal as what school he went to, but still very hard on him. He choose to participate in other sports instead and all was well in the end, but it was a tough time!
    Finally (dang, I’m writing a book here), so far, I would give your parenting approach an A plus! I know more is coming, but you know what? When our kids are hurting we don’t always bring out best selves to the table. And in the end, it just reminds us and teaches our kids that we’re all humans who sometimes make mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

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