Wednesday, March 25, 2015

High Stakes

Several years ago, I complained to a coworker about a particularly late night I had spent helping a particular daughter with a particular science project.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because she wouldn't have gotten it done otherwise."


"So, she would have failed."

"So, let her fail."

This left me speechless. It was a completely unacceptable concept for me (and absolute proof that the aforementioned coworker was not a parent).

In hindsight, maybe, I should have let her fail. The stakes in third grade weren't so high. Today? Oy vey. It feels like any little hiccup on any quarter's report card will mean the difference between attending a respectable university and becoming a productive member of society. Or wearing a batik skirt, Birkenstocks and hitchhiking cross-country following the Grateful Dead.

Except these days, she would wear something from Urban Outfitters and follow Imagine Dragons or Walk the Moon or, her personal favorite, Magic Man.

I can't begin to tell you how tired I am of the never-ending mantras of my fellow terrified parents ...

"Junior year: this is the year that really counts."

"It's harder to get into college now than when we went."

"Your son/daughter simply has to take the SATs twice plus ACTs (and three subject matter SATs and at least two APs)."

To say the stakes are high — or, at least, that we perceive them to be — is the understatement of the year. And, if I've learned anything so far about this whole college application process, it's that there is no room for understatement. Your child must be the best, the brightest, the biggest thing since sliced bread. A scholar, a leader, an athlete, an active and compassionate volunteer.

And, failure, is absolutely not an option.

After years of micromanaging my daughter's homework, I've stepped back. (My new and improved attitude coincided with many "I'm not a kid anymore!" protests.) Now, we have an agreement. It's a quid pro quo thing.

The quid includes riding her horse every day, competing in equestrian events (many of which involve long distances and heavy entry fees), going to concerts, and watching her favorite TV shows: Pretty Little Liars, New Girl and Dance Moms.

The quo is a little simpler. She has to keep her grades up. 

My daughter would argue that I have unreasonable expectations where grades are concerned. But, I honestly don't. I want her to continue to make the honor roll, but if that means excelling in some classes and coming in around average in another, that's ok. As long as the net net is good, I'm good.

Sometimes I worry that I've run out of steam right when I need to push her the hardest. But, she needs to do some of her own pushing now. I can't email her teacher or call her guidance counselor every time I think she's received an unfair grade on a paper. My daughter has to advocate for herself. Stay after class, have those awkward conversations. She's seventeen; these aren't things I can do for her anymore.

Besides, she'd kill me if I tried. 

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