“Why don’t you stretch out your long lovely legs and stop worrying about applying to the top colleges,” he suggested.
Shocked and hurt, I said nothing, and I don’t remember my mother saying much either. What I do remember is that my parents encouraged me to quietly ignore the headmaster’s advice. I applied to Vassar early decision and was accepted. The headmaster’s response? “You got in, but will you be able to stay in?” (I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Class of ’78).
Today, if a headmaster uttered such comments, he would be fired, sued or perhaps forced to undergo a mental health examination. But at least he left me alone to “over reach,” unlike most of today’s guidance counselors who expect to have their advice followed and to be treated like demi-gods. Now there’s hell to pay if you and your son or daughter apply to too many “reach” schools and not enough “safeties.” Even talented and gifted students can be discouraged and made to feel inadequate.
Max has not yet found a job, and no amount of nagging can persuade him to send out the large number of resumes that more ambitious and financially strapped students feel compelled to send out. The eager beavers start over Christmas break of senior year, if they hope to secure a job or an internship after graduation. Like all good parents, Henry and I are trying to network everyone we know to help Max get a toehold in the career of his choice: the entertainment industry. To my son’s credit, he has excellent grades, an impressive portfolio of comedy clips, a novella, a TV pilot and a documentary film. Persuading Max to assemble, organize and put these achievements out into the world has been a daunting and time-consuming project.
Sarah’s home now too. Unlike Max, her life is pretty well planned for the next year: take a three-credit theatre course, volunteer in a kindergarten classroom at a special ed school, and work with the Columbia University director on expanding her short film into a full length feature. Where do I get sucked in? Sarah needs help preparing for the certification test to become an assistant teacher. Providing this “help” is not as easy as it sounds. The information needed for certification is fourth or fifth grade level and is simple and straightforward for a neurotypical person. But since the test is comprised of multiple choice questions, it’s extremely confusing and difficult for a person with language processing and retrieval issues to pick the right answer. This is a nightmare for Sarah (and therefore for me). No amount of studying and explaining can fill the gaps in my daughter’s knowledge and vocabulary. There is no prep that can help her to navigate the verbal jungle of wrong-but-tempting answers offered on multiple choice tests. Nevertheless, I help as much as I can and cross my fingers that it’s enough to pass.
So much for career and academic independence. Now let’s look at all the myriad doctors’ appointments both kids—er, adults—need. Sarah goes on her own for routine visits to the gynecologist, the dentist and even our endocrinologist. But each new doctor requires my full participation. She lacks the confidence to fill out medical forms unless I’m looking over her shoulder, feeding her simple information, and reminding her to print small letters instead of using her loopy and gigantic, nearly illegible script. Both of us want her to do it herself, but she’s not ready yet. She also needs my help losing weight. (See last week’s blog, “Body Mass Insanity”). Now I’m supervising her diet, taking the subway in the rain to meet her dietitian and trying to figure out why she’s only lost one pound in two weeks on her excruciatingly strict meal replacement diet.
Hmm…. Both kids sign HPPA forms at the doctor’s office but we parents pay the bills.
And speaking of bills, we may get stuck with a $65 vet bill because I failed to supervise Max’s brushing of his dog’s teeth. Max has been taking care of Sparky for eleven years. It seemed normal to hand him a toothbrush and leave him to the task. For some mysterious reason, Max decided to use Colgate Total instead of the tooth paste the vet gave us. Now we’re not sure whether Sparky has fluoride poisoning or is just under the weather from the Bordatella vaccine he received this morning. The ASPCA won’t tell us the answer unless we give them our credit card number.
I’m trying to let go, but it’s not easy escaping from the mommy vortex.