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.