Monday, September 22, 2014

College-Prep Chronicles, Volume 2: The Mom Meltdown

Ian’s transformation occurred just a week or two before his junior year began.  He noted that school was going to be hard, stressful and overwhelming, and he appeared to be bracing himself for the challenges to come. I’ve faced many moments in life with this approach:  Tell yourself something is going to be absolutely awful so that there’s a chance it will be better than you expect.

It’s been super surprising terrific to see Ian approaching his year with a great deal of focus and hard work. Honestly, I’m not exaggerating when I say that he’s more than doubled the amount of time he’s spending on school work each night. It’s as if he just sailed through the past 10 years with little to no effort, and someone (other than his parents, of course) told him this is the year to get your act together. Whatever it was that spurred him on, I’m happy to see the change.

Unfortunately, I’m unhappy at how unprepared I am for Ian’s junior year. I thought I knew what I was doing, and lo and behold I’m actually falling behind. Last week’s back-to-school night threw me into a tizzy.

Let’s talk about back-to-school night, shall we? I’m starting to think it causes post-traumatic stress flashbacks. In my case, to the mid-to-late 80s. The insecurities, fears, concerns and need to compete are the same, only I weigh 20 pounds more and have to color my hair every 6 months weeks to cover the gray. Here are just a few examples of my neuroses what I’ve gone through each year at this time:
  • When Ian was a freshman, I felt overwhelmed and insignificant among the other parents who all seemed so much more grown up than me to know what was going on. As I’ve gotten older Ian has advanced, I've become more comfortable, and now I like to look down upon the lowly freshmen parents and laugh at their angst.
  • I worry about my hair, my breakouts and my clothing. Am I out of style? Are my jeans too tight? Do I have enough cover-up on that zit? Do I look younger or older than the other moms?
  • I bemoan the fact that I can no longer take part in the extracurriculars, or even some of the interesting classes our kids get to take these days. I wonder “Would I make the Silvertones?” “Would I get a solo?” “What about the school musical? Would I have a speaking part?” “Would I make it past the first round in the speech & debate competition?” “Could I get into a great college?” And it occurs to me that if I had had the opportunity to take AP Psychology in high school, that creepy college professor could never have hit on me because I wouldn't have taken his class.  
Getting into college is what’s really stressing me out these days. I had a plan: PSATs in October. See how I do. I mean see how Ian does. If he needs a prep course, we’ll sign him up. If not, awesome. Okay, it’s not much of a plan. Not only am I missing a few steps, but I’m behind the other kids. I mean the other parents. And it turns out there are tests I Ian should take that I’ve never even heard of.  A subject-specific SAT?? Well, yes, Kim, if you had taken any college tours (“I can’t believe you haven’t taken any tours yet”) you’d know that some of them require the subject SAT. No, that’s not instead of the standard SAT, it’s in addition. And don’t forget about the AP tests. Most honors students enter their first year of college with 15 credits under their belt, thanks to AP courses. Oh, and you should really take the AP Spanish course this spring since you have Spanish 4 now. If you wait until next year, with our block scheduling, it will be that much harder to remember everything you learned.

This is why my finger nails look like a dog’s chew toy.

So other kids’ parents have taken them to visit colleges by now. Some already have taken the SAT and the subject SAT and the ACT and the prep courses. Some are talking to admissions counselors to make sure Susie and Bobby are on track for acceptance to their preferred Ivy. How is it I've fallen so far behind??? What if Ian doesn't get into Yale or Princeton and he has to go Swarthmore or Haverford instead? What if he has to actually use mom’s benefits and go to Villanova? What will I tell my friends if Ian doesn't live up to their my expectations his potential? The peer pressure is overwhelming. 

What’s most important is that Ian doesn't disappoint me get a sense of my hysteria. That he remains calm, cool and collected with his nose to the grindstone, taking one day at a time as I've been wisely advising him to do.

He can leave the advanced freaking out to me.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Egyptian Rat Screw and Sister Sightings

"As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be." The doxology or a statement about mothers and daughters?

My sister Dawn.
I mean my daughter Abby.
I am the mother of a daughter. An incredibly bright, ambitious and talented 13 year-old. I am thankful that my relationship with Abby has been pretty darn good to this point. And, if I can avoid becoming competitive with my own child, we might just get along fine for the foreseeable future.

I have been envious of Abby's superior athletic ability since she was about five. Her math skills have impressed me since elementary school. The cool confidence and drama-free nature she possesses have been a pleasant surprise, particularly given her mother's dramatic tendencies. She knows her way around baked goods. And her desire to work hard and make a good impression are a source of pride. More recently, I've become aware with more than a little jealousy of Abby's cute teenage figure, which takes me back 30 years to when I was a stick-shaped dork, resenting girls like her.

While all of her qualities are enough to make anyone sick envious want to take her down a peg feel the need to strive to compete, what most gets to me about Abby is her resemblance to my sister Dawn. It's not so much a physical resemblance, but more about personality, attitude and character. It scares me how often I look at her and see my sister. The facial expressions are the same. The things she says and the way she says them is frighteningly similar. Where this causes me particular concern is with regard to their corresponding level of competitiveness. And this just happens to be one of the few things I have in common with my sister. So, if A = D and D = K, what must be true of A and K? Hey look! It's your first math problem of the new school year!

Being four years apart, Dawn and I didn't compete so much in school, but in any setting where we did interact, there was an unspoken desire to kick each others' asses outperform the other. The problem was is that I had have a soft spot that my sister didn't doesn't possess, which means she was is always able to get the better of me. The perfect example of when/where this competition reared its ugly head? The Monopoly board. Dawn was is vicious and ruthless and always had has to have the ship. She would will sucker me into making lousy deals. And, I don't think she ever lost loses.

The first indication that Abby and I might have issues? A game of cards. Not just any game of cards, but a game with the eyebrow-raising name "Egyptian Rat Screw." This is a game of memory and response time, requiring a heightened level of awareness and an above average ability to slap cards. Skills which have weakened in me with each passing year. Skills which Abby has in abundance. And did I mention we're both competitive?

It started out civilly enough. Abby taught me the rules of the game, and for about 10 minutes I behaved as an adult/parent. But then my child transformed before my very eyes and I saw Dawn sitting across from me with that confident smirk that said loud and clear, "You're going down!" And all hell broke loose. I refused to take any more beatings and I let it all out. Yelling. Aggressive card slapping. Profanities. Insults. It was when I told her "I'm surprised you have any friends; you're so mean!" that Abby brought me back to reality with "Mom! I can't believe you said that!" Oops. My bad.

You would think that would have been enough to snap me out of it, but the ugly continued, ultimately reaching its pinnacle when I demanded an impartial judge to make rulings on whose hand hit the deck first. Rob and Ian wisely declined to enter into our melee, leaving only one option: videotaping. We set up the iPad to record, and within minutes were in another disagreement as to who had won a hand. We turned to the iPad for answers. We watched the recording. And went back and watched the recording. And slowed it down frame by frame and watched the recording. And we still couldn't agree on who had won. We abandoned the videotaping. Abby won the game. I had a small tantrum, and that was that. I am happy to report that I have behaved much more appropriately during subsequent games, except when I won that one time. Then I did a little whooping and hollerin' and happy dance and told Abby she was a loser. Just kidding. I didn't do a happy dance. That's just immature.

I'll admit that I still see the ghost of my sister every now and then. Occasionally in my cat who is either aloof or nasty, but most often in Abby. I try to ward off the panic that results at these sightings by reminding myself that I am an adult and no matter how successful she is or how much she resembles Dawn, Abby is my child. This means I will always delude myself into believing have the upper hand...

...As long as I don't challenge her in baking, soccer, softball, clarinet, guitar, math or card games. From now on, I think we'll stick to Scrabble and Boggle. I can beat my sister daughter at those.