Sunday, September 29, 2013

Open House

They say you can't go back. I'm here to disagree. The other night, I went back to high school. 

Well, not my high school. My daughter's. 

I brought a friend along (the mother of one of my daughter's all-time best BFFs) and we joined a throng of hundreds of other parents in the so-called "field house." It looked a lot like a gym to me. Not that I would really know. My own high school in New York City, housed first on two floors of an office building and later in a renovated armory, lacked some of the typical amenities you find in typical high schools.

At any rate, we all sat on incredibly uncomfortable bleachers and waited for an address from the new principal. He updated us on standardized test scores (good news), our official rating in the state of Massachusetts (not so good news) and plans for a new "open campus" policy (highly controversial). A bell rang and we dispersed to our "A Block" classes.

The building is new and state-of-the-art in many ways. However, it's very confusing. There are A, B, C, D, and E wings, which spiral out from a multi-level central lobby, auditorium and cafeteria. This sounds relatively logical, but there are a few anomalies. For example, you can get from A and B to D and E on floors 1 and 2, but not on 3. 

Did you get that?

Me neither.

My teen daughter to the rescue! Each parent had his or her student's schedule, but she added a special bonus to mine. She drew a floorplan of the school, labeled with the different rooms I would need to find and when. Once the parents around me (most of whom I didn't know) saw this, I became very very popular.

More popular than I remember being in my own high school, come to think of it.

Map in hand, I did a whirlwind tour of her schedule. Each "class" lasted just ten minutes, in which time the teacher explained goals and requirements and tests and reading and homework and grades (oh my!). We were told that our kids are "Awesome." We were in awe ourselves of the volume of work facing them.

In between my mini courses, I raced up and down staircases and that's when it was easiest to imagine being back in high school. I did exceptionally well in high school but could I survive it again? I felt a little like Jamie Lee Curtis's character in Freaky Friday. I discount my daughter's challenges and assume I could get through her 7-hour day, but it was challenging just getting through the 2-hour evening.

And that's just the academic portion of our program, folks.

During my daughter's "study" (after Honors Chemistry, before Photography I), I meandered (raced would be a better word) down to the cafeteria. There, a number of student organizations had set up fundraising tables. Tee shirts and bumper stickers, information about National Honor Society tutoring, the teen programs at the YMCA. Some of the kids manning these tables were familiar to me; I'd known a couple since preschool. But there they were, the girls in (a bit too much) makeup, short skirts, high heels. The boys, looking like they not only shaved but actually (finally) needed to. Many were taller than me. And, I'm not that short.

It occurred to me that other mothers probably look at my daughter with the same sense of "where did the time go?" bewilderment. She may not wear makeup (yet) but she's definitely not a little girl.

I hung back to hang out with a couple of other weary mothers. We compared notes and agreed that these high school open houses were exhausting. And confusing. And more than a little bittersweet.

To my surprise, a few confident students confidently pushed their way into our circle. "Who are these confident young adults?" I thought. Sophomores, junior and seniors, they were clearly — not to mention, confidently — in their element. 

We were the bewildered freshmen.

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