Thursday, March 19, 2015

F*#k College

Teenager # 1 is a junior in high school. The year of reckoning. The year we've been credentialing for since Pre-K. The year of acronyms: SAT, ACT and APs. The year they really look at. The almighty THEY. The THEY we endow with the power to determine our children's' fate, our parental street cred and the rear window decor of our cars.


It is the golden carrot we have dangled in motivational fervor for our kids and ourselves since conception propelling us to achieve the unattainable security of a future unscathed and paved with prosperity. It was the reason for the in-vitro Mozart jam sessions, the flashcards at 18 months, the Suzuki violin lessons at age 3, the meticulously vetted Pre-K decision, the insistence on that first grade teacher rather than the other one, the phone call to the 6th grade science teacher about that B on that test, the hard-won debate about why 9th grade honors English IS a good fit, the backseat driving for that community service project, and the editorial "assistance" on that application essay. College is the holy grail whose elusive acquisition overshadows the original reason for going there in the first place.

I went to college. I liked college. I learned a lot from college. But as the mother of a junior I find this mantra keeps presenting itself to me: Fuck College.

Do I want my kid to go?


Do I want him to suffer the pressure, stress, shame, anxiety and mania which feels intensely prevalent in the process these days?

Not particularly.

And the good news is, he does not feel that. The pathetic news is, my husband and I do.

Not because we expect our kid will go to Yale or Stanford or Oxford; not because we expect him to win the nobel prize, not even because we want to brag about it to our vast network of friends we have lost touch with because we've been too busy parenting. Nope, we feel it because he says he wants it, and we want to help him get there, and we all seem to disagree on how to accomplish that.

He sees it as some far off place like Narnia or Oz; a desirable location whose entrance requirements include simple door opening, curiosity or the luck of being near a tornado at the right time. And the urgency of arriving at said fantastical yet totally attainable Eden is eclipsed by the release of the next new history making limited edition pair of Jordans. His response, as is the response to all distant deadlines, "Don't worry Mom, I got this," delivered with a confidence which makes me believe he has turned a corner in his maturity, but is later revealed as a deceptively Oscar-worthy piece of acting.

My husband believes in teenager #1's potential absolutely. And, because of that faith he, admirably, suggests, and encourages, and suggests some more, and makes pacts, and suggests again, and puts down his foot, and threatens summer school, and suggests one more time, and gives up, but not really, because he knows how to help if only teenager #1 would let him help, so he suggests one last time, which turns out to be the proverbial straw for the overburdened camel.

And me, well, I'll try anything. I do what husband does too and help too much. I also do what teenager #1 does and live for days, weeks, months at a time in denial. I also make a lot of food to feed the beast. I also search desperately for moments of calm to introduce potentially controversial subjects like GPA or coming up with a list of colleges, or SAT prep. I also devise alternate plans in my head for the future which often includes a time machine sending me to the future so I can skip over all of this Bullshit.

And then there are moments of alarming clarity for husband and me. Moments when we realize that college is not, in fact, the holy grail. It is not a lifetime warranty guaranteeing success, prosperity and happiness. It is the road more travelled, for certain; a well-paved road with a high success rate, But it is just one route. There are so many others. Some of those other routes actually lead to college in a different way. Some of them lead to trade schools for jobs which will, most likely, never be erased by digital advancement; you know like cooking, cutting hair, fixing a car, fixing a clogged drain. Jobs we rely on and pay dearly for because they insure convenience. And some other routes lead to the opportunity to make a new path. How Robert Frost-ian. And, just like that, College's death-grip is relieved. It becomes just another in an infinite list of choices.

Bearing that in mind, I will amend my previous hostility with my own personal College Serenity Prayer

There are no mistakes, only opportunities
I cannot control the future
My self worth is not defined by the stickers on the rear window of my car
My child's life is his to discover
An SAT score only measures how well you take the SATS
My children WILL eventually move out of the house
Life is what you make of it
Eggs and bacon at 10pm can cure all ills
Panic is not our friend
Fuck College

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For

I went on a job interview last week. An all day job interview, immersive you might say. And the strangest thing happened, I left feeling like I did really well. So, of course, the next logical reaction was terror...that I might actually get the job.

So then I began to soothe myself by listing all the reasons why I would have to turn it down.

  • My average hours per week would most likely double.
  • The logistics of getting everyone to school on time could evolve from difficult to nightmarish.
  • I might not have the right work clothes.
  • It would mean putting another nail in the coffin of my actual hopes and dreams.
  • I wouldn't be able to go to as many of my son's basketball games next year.
  • Dinner time would morph from its current state of slapdashery into an all out farce.
  • I may not be up to the job.
  • It might mean I am good at something.
  • It might mean I am good at something I never planned on being good at.
  • It might verge on the periphery of what some call success. 

Whenever I set out on a new venture, I am usually propelled by two fears:

1. That I will be discovered as the fraud we all know I am at any moment.
2. That I will do well and have to feel pride in my accomplishments.

And there are probably so many conventionally cliche and weird ooey gooey places this ritual of self sabotage originates from.
  • Catholicism
  • Being the youngest of six and therefore a product of my parents' realization that kids really raise themselves.
  • Being a woman
  • Being a hard worker as opposed to a brilliant thinker.
  • Being married to a successful man
  • Being lazy
  • The complacency of comfort
  • The possibility that there really isn't much under the hood.
  • My mother's self-image
  • My father's success
  • Being me
I have worked very hard over my many years to program the intricate software of my self-doubt for a balanced output of manageable accomplishment and resentment. The constant wrench in these works is that I am also plagued by optimism. Optimism upsets this balance because it drives me to read Marianne Williamson's Our Deepest Fear, and listen to anthemic pop music, and watch Henry V's St. Crispin's Day speech and Hoosiers in its entirety which leads me to possibly the most dangerous outcome--believing in myself.

Don't worry, it doesn't last long because I quickly equate self-confidence with arrogance (see Catholicism above), and resettle into my acceptable version of ordinary. (You literally just witnessed this process since I was sickened by my own declaration of believing in myself to the point of belittling it and blaming it on the Catholic church)

This has been my  life's "To be or not to be." Only its gravitas is not so much the stuff of Shakespeare. (doing the whole devaluing sleight of hand again right here.) The root of this particular evil is simple: I will be discovered a fraud when others finally realize that there is not much of value or interest or capability beyond the obvious good looks and superficial charm. The irony of this particular evil is that is has driven me to make sure my fraudulence is never discovered, which has consequently lead me to develop skills that some now may consider valuable. And how do I reconcile that? How do I accept success (something I want) when I ultimately feel I do not deserve it (something I believe)?

I haven't been offered the job, so, thankfully, I do not have to answer that question yet. I can continue to postpone the possibility of success and the epiphany of self-significance by getting on with the reality of life. And one day, when when I truly crack this nut, I can get on with the reality of living.