I’ll never forget the moment when my husband and I decided that it was time to leave our sweet little urban life in Park Slope, Brooklyn behind for what we assumed would be the relative ease of the suburbs.
My son was about six months old, and through chit-chat with my mommy group friends, I realized that if my kid was going to amount to anything in this lifetime, I’d better get him on the right list for the right preschool, which in turn would lead him to the right elementary school, the right middle school, the right high school, and you guessed it — the right college.
This was no easy task. I’d already missed the pre-birth window to get my son on a list for preschool, and so my options were already limited. A few months later, I finally got him in to a nursery school — but it definitely wasn’t the one all the cool cats were at.
That preschool wake-up call was a swift kick in the parenting nuts. We had had been too naive to check the school district before we bought our apartment, so our elementary school was the one that had a chain link fence around it and metal detectors inside of it. Private school was another route my mommy friends were discussing, but paying for Kindergarten at a rate I thought was reserved for college made no sense to me. (As if this were even an option! Had we really wanted in, the kid would’ve had to have done his pre-admission interview in utero.)
Overwhelmed by the amount of homework it was clear we’d have to do so as not to screw up our children academically speaking, my husband and I decided that a move would change everything. We had some Brady-ass shit clouding our minds as we assumed that once we hit the ‘burbs, it would be smooth sailing.
Initially, our theory seemed to pan out. In our new town, we were able to get our kids into the desirable co-op preschool relatively easily, although there was a bit of competition for that, too. The catch was that parents had to get involved by volunteering to help in the school, attending parenting classes, and participating in fundraising. The people who phoned it in were ostracized; so I learned pretty quickly to put a smile on my mug as I scrubbed tiny toilets, traded recipes for healthy snacks, and learned all the many ways I could be a better parent.
The list was about 1,000 miles long, and soon I realized that those “What to Expect…” books that went through the toddler years were actually required reading. And there would DEFINITELY be surprise quizzes, tests, and full-on exams that would be sprung upon us unwitting parents at any time.
Another move when my kids were moving into elementary school brought us to the LA-area, and a whole new Rubik’s cube of information I was supposed to be able to snap into alignment guided by logic and perhaps sheer chutzpah. Carol Brady was replaced by Sandra Tsing Loh, who wrote about the quest for the ideal education for her kids in Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting!
Clearly it was a humor book.
Back in my corner of the world, I learned that one misstep could cost my kid dearly. For example, I was thrilled to be among the first to hear about a new K-8 school that was opening just in time for my kids to attend, and it promised a simple solution to the labyrinth of the LA Unified School District’s “choices.” Unfortunately, I checked the wrong box when filling in information about my youngest, and it then took me TWO YEARS to get her into the spanky new school that I’d managed to get her brother in from the get-go.
When it came time for high school for my oldest, I inadvertently clicked on the wrong school year that he was either in, or going to be in (I still don’t know what I did), and so there was radio silence when everyone else was admitted. It took a mad scramble and much gnashing of teeth to correct the error and get him in to his desired PUBLIC high school just in the nick of time.
This is just the short list of the many ways not knowing every f*&#&%$ thing there is to know has cost my family. So now that my son is a sophomore and college looms (ok…. who the hell am I kidding… it’s been looming since preschool), I’ve been on a quest to get as much information as humanly possible so I don’t screw this thing up, too.
So this past weekend I went to a very informative session with a fancy-schmancy standardized test prep outfit. In addition to free muffins and coffee, we were treated to a very candid, very informative, and very depressing two-hour talk about the realities of getting into college. At this point, Carol Brady would be road kill, and Sandra Tsing Loh would be (even more) apocalyptic.
As I sat there, I imagined what I’d do if I had to take the SAT today:
Lucky for me, my admission to graduate-level parenting isn’t dependent on the SAT (or ACT… word up my friends, the SAT is changing in 2016, so if you’ve got a plain ol’, non-Mensa level kid, the ACT will be much easier to prepare for. I just saved you two hours, although you get no muffin with that…)
Unlucky for me (and you!), it’s clear the next few years are going to make that primary/secondary school Rubik’s cube look like child’s play.
This is what I was thinking when, knee-deep in hour two of the college prep meeting, one of the moms in the room blurted out, “Since when do we need to know everything? My parents had no idea about the SATs, or where I applied to college, and it was fine.”
Murmurs of approval ensued, but in my head, I stood up and gave the woman a standing- O, slow clap salute.
This is something I think about all the time, when I’m killing myself to volunteer, signing my kids up for 4,000 activities, and now, trying to crack every single flippin’ angle so that my children are guaranteed the perfect life. (This is the premise of my still-developing novel, Suburban Rhapsody: “A better life. The perfect life. I was pretty sure I’d recognize it when I saw it.”)
The idea that parents need to know everything, have their fingerprints on every aspect of their kids’ lives, and be immersed and enmeshed in everything from academics to athletics to social lives is totally freakin’ nuts.
It’s also a Gen-X special — we are cynical, skeptical, and utter control freaks. And deep down, the driving force I suspect is an impulse that says if I had it to do over…
The point is we don’t have it to do over, and it’s over to the kids now. Just like us, they are the drivers of their own destiny, and if we do our jobs right, it’s about now that we should be moving into the passenger side. (But go ahead and backseat drive — I know I do!)
So if you see me snapping my parenting books shut, just know I’ve done my homework, and I’m ready for whatever comes next. I don’t know it all, but all I do know is that children grow up, go to college… or not… not because of us, but in spite of us. And that’s some A+ advice to keep in mind, my bitches, when selecting from the multiple parenting choices presented to us every single day.
Blog image: “Exploding Head,” by Keith Haring