Intrinsic or Extrinsic Stress in High School



High school is full of stress. Today I sat for nearly two hours to learn about what the Junior year would bring us as far as College Admissions. First of all I am unprepared to sit and listen to anyone for two hours, that was stressful and secondly it made me want to cry. One speaker after another talked about how to keep it from being high stress and then went on about the import of having A’s and B’s and high test scores and I’m sitting there wondering if any high school student ever gets a C or if they’ve gone the way of the dodo bird?

Maybe I’m living in Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average?

I’m told to not worry about ACT prep courses until Junior year but then there’s a prep course offered during the summer session before the Junior year. The kids are supposed to take the ACT in the spring of their Junior year and then again in the fall of their Senior year and no one will be taking the SAT at all because for the class of 2017 it will be a new test and there’s no way to prepare for it. And then again there’s some murmuring about the fact that the head of the College Board was instrumental in creating the Common Core Standards and that the new SAT is being developed to somehow defend the Common Core.

Could one man be that powerful?

Part way through this morning meeting I remembered how to breathe in and out. I remembered that we’d been through this once with Jane already in selecting a high school and there aren’t that many high schools to choose from in our area. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of colleges and universities and all we need to do is be there to help her hit deadlines, study her best and choose wisely.

Jane often feels stressed about school as does every high school kid. The question is where the stress is coming from. Is she putting pressure on herself to do more than she has time for? Is the school putting pressure on her to be perfect (whatever that may be)? Am I putting pressure on her to run faster, calculate better, code cleaner and write more? I hope not.

We’ve got two and a half academic years around here with Jane. The trick as I see it is to provide soft landings when Jane needs a little help, to stay out of her way when she’s hell bent on achieving a goal and to keep the college planning in perspective. She’s coming out of a great school and she’s going to go to a great college not because I know that my kid is headed to a prestige school but because I know that my kid is headed to a school that’s a great fit for who she is and who she wants to become.

The extrinsic pressure? I’m like a valve stem on that one – just doing my best over here to let some of the pressure go.

The Surprising Benefit of a K-8 Education


Today was Jane’s second to last high school interview. Between interviews and the flu the eighth grade class has hardly made a showing in the past weeks in fact one of Jane’s classes of 13 kids was down to four yesterday. This is part of the process with a school that ends in the 8th grade.

When we picked this particular setting for the kids we felt like a K-8 school offered a lot of emotional and academic safety for some potentially difficult years in middle school but I mistakenly believed that the big detriment in selecting a K-8 education was that the kids would have to apply to high school at an age where they are still busy discovering themselves. I worried that I’d made a bad decision for my kids and that we should have sent them to a K-12 school instead. Parenting is like that, we make the best decisions possible and then second guess ourselves for years on end.

I don’t know what it’s like to be an eighth grade parent at every school but I want to describe the process that my daughter is currently going through so that hopefully you can see the value in it.

In the weeks before seventh grade begins each child gets a letter from the admissions director (she is also their placement advisor) letting them know that it’s time to get serious. It lets them know that 7th grade is really important for high school admissions and that this is the year to buckle down and excel. The kids respond well to those letters. It’s the first notion that they’re working toward something other than a grade on a piece of paper. 7th grade was great for my daughter.

During the last trimester of 7th grade they take a high school prep class. In this class they learn about the schools in the community. The kids explore different learning styles, take note of different teaching styles, become aware of the cultures of thirty or so local schools and by the end of the class they’ve narrowed down the high schools that they’re interested in learning about to a list of about a dozen.

The summer before the kids enter 8th grade we had a meeting with the admissions director as well as with the head of the middle school (this is a no-kids meeting) my husband and I were amazed when a file appeared that held Jane’s transcripts for the last two years, standardized test results and her list of schools. We were absolutely dumbfounded that the school had also made a list of schools that we should consider looking at including a few “safe” schools and for some kids there were “reach” schools. Jane didn’t have any “reach” schools not because she’s that kid but because the two most competitive schools hold zero appeal for her. There was also a paper that had all the application deadlines as well as the standardized test dates.

I had moments of feeling incredibly overwhelmed during that meeting but then I flashed on what the experience would have been without that meeting. Our hands were being held as we watched our daughter find her next school.

The week before school began there was a parents only get together where we were again handed packets (but this time we were also having a lovely dinner) that would give us open house dates, timelines, reminders and a sign up for an ISEE test prep course that was offered at the school. Questions were asked and answered and we sent our kids off to 8th grade hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

The worst probably won’t happen. I’m watching my daughter interview and it’s a wonderful exercise for her. She’s walking into strange offices, greeting adults with a handshake and eye contact, she’s talking about her achievements and asking them if they can help her reach her dreams. She’s got her heart and mind set on attending NYU and she’s only interviewing at schools that can get her there. It’s really quite impressive and all of the goal setting happened without me.

The high schools I might have chosen for my 4 year old have little to do with the schools my 14 year old has examined and decided she would like to attend. Today as we were wrapping up interview number three I realized we’d be doing this again in four more years and even though the stakes will arguably be higher our family’s stress will undoubtedly be lower.

This process of finding a high school has proven to all of us that Jane’s academic career belongs to her and that she’s more than capable of managing it.

It Feels Like a Countdown


My kids are good kids. They’re not spectacularly well behaved and they aren’t straight A students. They are smart and funny and I enjoy smart and funny people. They aren’t completely altruistic though they have moments of stupefying goodness where my eyes well with tears and I know I’ve done my job well. They’re just sort of good kids, the kind of people you want to spend time with.

I got a new dance game for the Kinect the other day (I’d thank whomever sent it to me if I knew who it was) and Jane and I danced and laughed and found out that my reflexes are a lot slower than I’d ever imagined. Alexander sat behind us on the sofa with his cell phone instagramming and Kik’ing his life away and every so often he’d glance up and scream about us scarring him.

Note to self: be sure to dance in front of his friends if he ever needs a major punishment.

We’re only a few days past Jane’s 14th birthday and I can’t help but feel like there’s a countdown in this house. We are refinancing the house at 3% which is a rate I never thought I’d see in my lifetime but we’re doing a 10 year fixed because in 10 years it will be just Mr. G and me and there’s no reason to be in a house with all these bedrooms if there are no people around to fill them. Jane is applying to high schools now which means that we only have four years left until she applies to college and that child will leave me.

She wants to go to NYU. She loves New York and she loves downtown (I love it best too so I understand) and I always say that when Jane learned to walk she learned to walk away from me. She has forever been wildly independent and it’s one of the many things I love about her. Her independence has me feeling both successful and sad.

When we met with the headmaster at one of the high schools we talked about the commute. “It’ll be rough the first year or I’ll pay for a bus,” I explained to him, “But by November of her Sophomore year Jane will be driving and it’s officially not my problem.”

He asked me if I was worried about her driving and I sort of shrugged and said something to the effect of she’s a good kid, she’ll be a fine driver. And then headmaster (who has been in his position for more than 30 years) said that I was the first mother who had ever spoken that way.

I don’t mind being different but when thousands of families all have a deep worry that I simply don’t have I start to second guess myself. If she’s not ready to drive at 16 I won’t toss her the keys but why would I tell my 14 year old that I’m scared of her driving in two years? How does that set her up for success?

We’re counting down for everything. She’ll be driving and then she’ll leave me. And every so often when she reminds me that she’ll be going to Tisch (and she’s a persuasive child) I just look at her and ask her, “Why don’t you love me? If you loved me you’d go to USC.”

That’s normal, right?

About Occupy Wall Street and the Employed 99%


I won’t be camping out at Occupy Los Angeles any time soon, but I appreciate the people who do. I was down there several weeks ago with my camera and I’ve been there a few times since then. It’s an interesting crowd full of thinkers, free spirits, frustrated young adults, politicians and pseudo intellectuals.

Occupy Wall Street is also important because it’s a symbol of both all that is wrong and all that is right in America. Occupy Wall Street exists in large part because we bailed out banks that behaved criminally. We tried to salvage them and their horrible business practices. Now billionaire bankers have been made whole, but my husband’s 401k is reduced by 40%. He worked his ass off to make that money and to secure a nice retirement for himself. Because of thievery there will be less to retire with.

I am aware of the fact that we are lucky that retirement is a word we can even consider, but we are far from the 1%. There have been no big raises, there were two years of sleepless nights during wave after wave of layoffs. Our neighbors have lost their homes and our home has lost significant value.

I am not complaining about my lifestyle. It’s nice, and I’m content. But when I look at the 401k and how it’s been bludgeoned I want to scream and pick up a sign. When I look at college costs soaring I feel terribly for young adults but at the same time I want to shake them and say “I went to a Community College it was excellent. The teachers were devoted and you can afford it.” My brother went to Santa Monica Community College and then to UCLA, guess which one had better professors? If you guessed Santa Monica you’d be correct.

But this is neither here nor there. Everyone deserves an education. We provide free school through high school with varying degrees of quality. California used to have some of the best schools in the nation. That’s just not the case any longer. Our state schools are also getting more expensive every day.

The kids at Occupy Cal joined hands and were protesting rate hikes and their bleak economic future. As empowered citizens they were exercising their right to free speech.

Today, on Veteran’s Day, we honor those who gave their time, their health and sometimes their lives so that Americans could speak freely and congregate peaceably. Today, on Veteran’s Day, I wanted to feel like I lived in the greatest country in the world. The country that would allow my children to chase their dreams.

Instead today I saw this.

You can see part two here (it is MUCH more objectionable).

When we see footage like this in other countries we scream POLICE STATE and send in the troops. I challenge you all to rethink what is happening in America. I challenge you all to post videos like these and to support the Freedoms that our Veterans fought so hard to protect.

Searching for my Former Self in the Southwest


Bronze Sculpture

Twenty years ago while I was a student in Colorado I heard that a local sculptor was was looking for nude models. He was an established bronze artist looking for women who wouldn’t mind being cast in plaster for $100 an hour. In a town where a two bedroom apartment rented out at $425 a month this was an incredible opportunity. I called him, gave him my measurements and was delighted when he gave me instructions and hired me for a few hours.

The sculptor was David Dirrim, and his workspace was a huge warehouse in the wrong part of town (as warehouses tend to be). I showed up and was surprised by David, he looked more like a welder than an artist. The artists I knew were thin but fit men who wore mismatched socks and crumpled shirts. Dave was tall and strong and, perhaps because of the locale, looked decidedly blue collar.

I was to pose with a twist in my torso so Dave had built a place for me to stand where I could grip a bar above my head. I’d be covered in plaster for as long as it took for it to dry, the room was warm so hopefully the plaster would dry quickly.

I felt less naked in that artist’s warehouse than I did in a bikini on the beach. We found the perfect position for the bronze, marked where my hands and feet needed to be and he proceeded to cover the front of me in plaster from chin to knee. Standing still, breathing shallowly and holding a pose was more difficult than I’d imagined. Although there was ample heat I felt a chill go through me just before the plaster hardened and began to separate from my body. We breathe through our skin more than we could ever imagine.

I rested a few moments while he made sure that the cast would work, took some sips of water and prepared for the back. Dave explained to me that our spines release a lot of heat and that sometimes people don’t feel well with their entire back covered. He asked me to let him know if I thought I might pass out. I assured him I would let him know if I felt weak.

The plaster on my back felt heavier and hotter than the plaster on my front. It went on wet and cold and almost immediately began to warm but not harden. Dave stood behind me and we talked about the process, about his work and about standing absolutely still even when my arms tingled and shook. I felt cold again and then a wave of nausea, I opened my mouth to speak so I could tell Dave that I was worried about fainting and I could hear the words in my head but they didn’t leave my lips.

Strong arms were holding me ever so gently and peeling the cast from my shoulders. I slipped to the ground and lost consciousness but there wasn’t a single crack in the plaster. Both Dave and I were pleased.

Many months later Dave called to let me know he’d cast me in bronze and if I wanted to see it I should feel free to stop by the studio. I remember walking in the doors that day and looking at my bronze. I was bigger and smaller than I’d thought I was. I touched the torso and wondered aloud if it was really me. He explained that it was and I felt strange. I had no real sense of my own size and I didn’t realize that I was beautiful. I knew I was sexy in the way that every young woman is, but I didn’t know that my body was actually beautiful.

I felt like a thief for taking Dave’s money. He’d given me what a thousand hours of therapy could offer no one. He allowed me to see myself as the world sees me. Kindly.

This weekend as I lay in bed with my stomach gurgling as food poisoning stole my day I thought of just one thing. Get on the scale so you can see how much weight you lose. Which is not okay. The reality is that 20 years and a full lifetime later I’m close to the same size. True my breasts require a sturdier bra and there is a small but definite crease on my bottom that hadn’t been there before. It’s unlikely that my stomach will ever be as flat as a board, but it wasn’t flat when I was 22. It was firm, but not flat, because that’s simply not the body I was meant to have. I wasn’t fat, in the absence of illness or pregnancy I’ve never been truly fat. I’ve just been a woman.

I’m searching for that bronze. Five of them were made and sold in the Southwest and I’m determined to find one and own it.