Pre High School Conversations


ME: It’s time for you to drive. This is bullshit.

JANE: [grinning] What kind of car are you going to buy me?

ME: I’m sorry for cussing

ME & JANE [in chorus]: Cussing doesn’t count in bad traffic.

ME: I don’t know. We want you in something safe.

JANE: Jerry said he’s never cut a dead body out of a BMW or a Mercedes. [Jerry is our firefighter neighbor]

ME: That’s a very real possibility but it won’t be anywhere near new.

JANE: [smiling and nodding] I know

And then we see two guys pushing their dead car down the street.

JANE: What about a Hyundai, Kia or a Ford? That could be new, right?

ME: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too. Maybe something that no one else has driven.

Of course at dinner I bitch and moan about the amount of driving I’ve done this week. You see Jane has volleyball tryouts all week long and there’s no bus service until school starts. The school she’s attending is a 25 minute drive from here and I am not at all interested in being her chauffeur. I mean I am for 5 minutes, it’s the 20 after that which does me in. I’m thinking of a fake ID and maybe a car…

So after I’ve had the Mercedes/Ford/Hyundai/Kia conversation with her we sit at dinner and talk about what’s on tap for Friday. There’s some back to school shopping as she needs a dark suit for assembly days (every Thursday) and then a massage. The massage is for aching muscles and hyperextending joints. She’s played 2-3 hours of volleyball a day plus weight room training all week. If ever a kid earned a massage this is the week for it.

As we’re discussing the day Mr. G says, “A massage? Aren’t you spoiling her?”

And I was about to say, “Yes, I am.” I was going to give him the lecture I give myself about how he and I both make more money when we perform better at work and her currency comes in the form of things like massages and manicures and when she performs well she gets more perks but then Jane beat me to the punch.

“Yes Daddy, I’m a little spoiled but insurance covers it so it’s okay.”

So tomorrow’s a massage day. We’ll have to negotiate the car another time.



How Much is Too Much?


Last week our school newsletter included a message from our Head of School that I wanted to share with the world. If I was a gazillionaire I’d take out a full page ad in every paper (I know… no one reads newspapers). Every time our Head of School speaks I find myself nodding in agreement and feeling grateful that the school found this person. Of course it takes a special school to attract great talent so it becomes a chicken/egg discussion.

If you’re local to LA and school shopping I absolutely will tell you where the kids go but Alexander has two more years there so if this blog still exists in two years I’ll update it with the Head of School’s name and give proper attribution. For now, it doesn’t really matter who shared these words. Just give this a good read and let me know your thoughts when you’re done.

Very often I am asked questions about teaching and parenting elementary and middle school kids. Specifically, the over arching question generally revolves around “how much is too much.” Parents want their children to be properly nurtured, engaged, and successful. But where is the breaking point? Where do we as the adults go into overdrive, no matter how well intentioned?

I suggest three areas where adults might want to take a step back and reflect before acting. First, we risk too little. Over-protecting and insulating children from too much actually has a statistically adverse effect on them. “Children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are slightly less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk,” according to a study conducted recently.

Second, we rescue too quickly. I just read a true story about a girl who earned a C- on a history paper. She immediately called her mom, in the middle of class, who insisted on speaking with the teacher right then so the grade could be negotiated! Students who do not learn to take responsibility and solve their own problems using conflict resolution skills don’t “grow.” Like muscles atrophy due to disuse, so do kids’ social, emotional, and intellectual skills when they are consistently rescued.

And last, we rave too easily. I am fully supportive of high self-esteem, but it has to be genuine. A vaccine exposes us to small doses of the disease it is intended to fight. At that point, we develop immunity. Similarly, kids need doses of challenges and inconveniences in order to build the necessary strength to cope with them.

Obviously, negative risk-taking (alcohol, drugs, etc.) should be avoided at all cost. However, failure at a given task is often a very good thing. It is so important to learn from one’s mistakes rather than to be shielded from making them.   Fragile children become fragile adults. The world that awaits our children demands their ability to be resilient. The greatest harm adults can do is not offer the learning opportunities that come with failure.


The Benefits of a K-8 School


The high school applications are almost done for Jane and although it’s an extraordinary amount of paperwork it hasn’t been horribly overwhelming. The summer before 7th grade the kids all get a letter addressed to them (and not us parents) that reminds them that 7th grade really matters for high school admissions. It’s time to ramp it up and get the best grades possible. It’s a nice letter, an encouraging letter and it’s proven to be quite effective for the bulk of the kids.

8th grade is spent focusing on getting into high school. Our weekends have been consumed with school visits and the evenings are spent writing essays and trying to figure out what Jane has done that makes her special. The letter that I really want to write is this:

Dear Admissions Committee,

Jane is a good girl. She gets mostly A’s but every so often she’ll get overwhelmed or forget to turn something in and the grades slip a bit, but never below a B. She never gets below a B in part because she’s very bright but also because she’d lose all of her sports. If you ever want to make my daughter miserable just take team sports away from her. Scratch that, please don’t ever make my daughter miserable I love her.

You’ll love her too. You see, she’s a cheerful sort. When you need a big smile Jane’s your girl. She’s an enthusiastic learner and you’ll get the opportunity to educate me as well. Jane will repeat most of your lectures for me in the car on the way home, she’ll be doing it at warp speed though so if I cough I might miss a sentence or two.

She’s looking to play high school sports and is on the fence about track. A word to the wise? Give her a decent coach and chase her around the campus a little. That girl of mine is fast.

Unfortunately Mr. G and I married for love so there will be no buildings named after us and I won’t be the mom who lives on campus to organize your gala. I’m a pretty good room mom and I’ve been known to give a few shekels extra but mostly from us you’ll get tuition and annual fund money. That’s about it.

I also want to make it perfectly clear that Jane is using you. She only wants to read Shakespeare and do a lot of math. I know she really likes your film program but let’s face facts. Your high school is just her stepping stone to NYU.

I’m pretty sure that won’t work so instead I’ll talk about her good grades, her recent awards, her ability to work hard and her altruism. I’ll talk about our commitment to academia for it’s own sake and then step out of the way because something is happening with high school that I never thought would happen to us.

Going back in time a bit… when Jane was in about the third grade I’d watch the mothers with the eighth grade kids talking to them about their high school decisions. I remember asking one mom which school she wanted to her daughter to go to and she sort of shrugged and said, “It’s not really my choice.” I smiled at her and pretended to understand but until just a few months ago I really couldn’t comprehend how a teenager could be in charge of a decision as enormous as choosing their own high school.

Parents are in charge, right?

Well, parents are in charge. I didn’t allow Jane to apply to one school that she was interested in. I didn’t like what I saw there and I wouldn’t give them my money or four years of my daughter’s life. We looked at about eight schools. I said no to one of them, that was my input. Now Jane has to tour, apply, test and interview at about five of them and my best guess is that in March she’ll need to pick the one she likes best. It will be her decision.

To an outside observer this seems like a horrible process that tortures teens during critical years of their development stripping away yet another year of their childhood. From many of us whose children are leaving K-8 schools it’s a moment in time where everyone works hard for a common goal and an entire community celebrates our children’s achievements.

Yes, you read that right. I think this entire application process is good for everyone. I can’t speak for every school but my daughter’s school has a plan that began in 7th grade with a trimester long class that was devoted to researching high schools. The kids left that class with detailed spreadsheets that included everything from class size to reputation for 50 private and parochial schools in the area. Over the summer we met with school administrators who gave us lists of good matches for Jane that included a few safe schools (she’s pretty much guaranteed to get in) and a few reach schools (they admit less than 10 children in 9th grade). In October the 8th grade parents had a group meeting with the administrators once again to discuss deadlines and ISEE registration.

Going through this as a group is sort of like a really hard Zumba class. Just when you think you might die and you’re zigging while everyone else is zagging the music stops and no one died. The kids all get into good schools and everyone’s fitness levels soared.

The last applications go out this afternoon. The ISEE exams are in three days and the interviews really aren’t my problem. I just show up as the mom, tell them who Jane is, let them see who we are and wait.

My 14 year old will make the decisions now. It’s really fantastic.


I Send them to School and then I Sit in the Car and Cry


This morning wasn’t the easiest one. It’s the Blessing of the Animals at the kids’ school. All the students bring their pets to the school yard before clases begin and a man who isn’t a priest but wears a collar (forgive me I never know what to call him) puts a few drops of water on each pet and says a blessing. Four years ago he about drowned our hamster and I was also have a rough day. I wouldn’t have remembered that, but apparently I blogged it so it must be true.

The morning was a little frenetic  Usually I toss on workout clothes and wake up just five minutes before the kids. I drop them off at school and then do whatever exercise I’ve got on the schedule for the day. Today is different. Today I have a midmorning meeting at a high school. So I woke up 15 minutes before the kids but it wasn’t enough because I had to get really dressed (not fake exercise dressed) and do things like put on mascara.

So I’m downstairs with Jane and Alexander is standing on top of the landing when it’s time to leave and he yells at her that she’s been in his room and taken his PE shorts. She swears she has not but when I look at her she’s standing there in a pair of shorts that say “ALEXANDER” on them. She rolls her eyes and says, “They were in my drawer.” Which they probably were and she’s completely in the wrong because she should have returned the shorts to him but still I’m the one who puts the laundry away so I find myself standing between my two children feeling queasy.

I hate it when they fight and they seldom fight. I know it comes out of frustration and anxiety but that doesn’t make me feel any better, now I just feel worse knowing that my son is anxious and frustrated.

We pile into the car with the dog and everything. Alexander has to run upstairs for forgotten football jerseys and things and he’s just miserable. He’s quiet and unhappy which bleeds to me. Then I’m feeling sad that this is Jane’s last blessing of the animals as she’s in the 8th grade and possibly Alexander’s last as we’re thinking of sending him to another school for 7th grade (but much less likely). My son is unhappy and I am trying to be happy but failing mostly. We are tied together and in the mornings I’ve not yet unwound so I need them to be joyful or I cannot be.

We get to the school and the kids have decided that this year Junior will go with Alexander. I turn right into the driveway and go to grab Junior’s leash and it’s not there. It’s in the house. It’s in the house with the football cleats that I’ll need to bring him and I know that I shouldn’t  bring his cleats but I also know that I should have had these kids prepared for school the night before so this is my responsibility.

There’s no time to drive home and get Junior’s leash and get back to school. We simply live too far away. So I park the car and have a good cry on a random sidestreet.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to powder my face and go look at a high school.


You Down with G-O-D?


Jane just walked in and sang some of her chapel songs for me. One of them was:

You down with G-O-D? Yeah you know me.

So I did what every 42 year old mother would do. I burst out in hysterical laughter. She looked hurt and then I had to explain to her that it was a song from when I was in college.

And then I played this for her. Mostly because I tend to take an action and then think about it.

Alexander walked in the room and was like, “That’s the G-O-D song!” and he stayed a moment to listen to the lyrics, turned bright red and begged me to shut it off.

So the next thing you know I’m chasing both kids up the stairs begging them to not tell the other kids that the music teacher is having them sing a dirty song and telling them it’s totally fine to not be down with G-O-D or any other down with it thing and I’m praying like crazy to a god I don’t believe in that the kids don’t out me as the worst mother in LA.

Five letters starting with a P…. if they were bad spellers this would’a been an easier conversation.