Monday, March 1, 2010

Opera is playing in the kitchen. Yes it is. But I fear that it's too late. My eldest is buried under SAT prep and term papers and my youngest is in his room easily maneuvering between homework and the computer 'thing.'

Are we the normal American family? Is this what we have become? I promise you I have never over scheduled my kids yet here I am amazed at how much we all have to juggle. Will 'shadowed' another high school today. Tomorrow he will 'shadow' his final school. That will make five schools he has toured. That means I had to call those schools, make the appointments and get Will there. There were applications and interviews and open houses. And this is just high school.

Kyle studies all the time. Well, in all honesty, I don't know when he is not studying because his computer is always open and I have no idea if he is on facebook, his music page, or if he really is doing the research for that term paper he says he is working on.

And then there is their fencing tournaments. Both my kids are fencers. Yesterday, Kyle spent the entire day in Oakland at a qualifier for Nationals. He came home scratched up, bruised and exhausted...and we are talking fencing here, not football. But he had a huge grin. He made Nationals.

And why all this craziness? I have always wanted my children to have choices. I was afraid that something they did or did not do in elementary school might effect middle school, what they did in middle school might effect high school, and what they did in high school would effect college, etc. etc. etc. So, I became part of the "Race to Nowhere." I instilled this notion so much in my kids that now Kyle stresses that he will have choices when it comes time to go to the 'right' college. I have done my boys a huge disservice. And now I am caught in a vicious cycle.

I think back to when I went to college and I applied to two schools. I didn't go to an independent school just the school a few blocks from my house. I took the SAT one time. And I'm sure I didn't study for it. I think I remember one Stanley Kaplan review course but that was it. My score was good enough. I didn't need all the choices in the world. So why have I been so obsessed with choices.

I think it has come out of fear. Since the day I held my newborn in my arms, the baby boomers were asking me if I had put my name down in a pre-school of my choice. It started then. My babies were not even walking or talking, just pooping an peeing and I had put their names down at the 'right' pre-schools. There were interviews and applications. And it has just spiraled from there.

I wanted to live in an area that had the best public school district. And I still checked out independent schools. I toured and evaluated. I talked to other parents. And the fear kept escalating.

I have spent years making sure I made the right choices to give my kids the opportunity to have choice.

Now I know that all these choices I have made, have made us a little less happy. And is anything worth happiness?

If I had it to over again I don't think I would step on the treadmill of never ending opportunity. I think I would have settled for just fine. My kids would have blossomed at their own pace and we would all have been so much less stressed.

Now, to do this I would have needed blinders and earplugs because the voices all around you speak of all the things one MUST do. It is so easy to get caught up in this ridiculous race.

And I blame myself for making my kid's lives so much more complicated than they needed to be. I hope I have not caused them to much harm but I know that I have caused a little bit of harm. And I am sorry for that.

But the craziness needs to stop. And we need to be part of the solution.

I promise I will never ask a newborn's mom to make sure she puts his or her name on a list to make sure he or she gets into pre-school!

Have you been caught up in this race to nowhere? What would you do differently? Do you do things out of fear? How should I move forward?

THE RACE TO NOWHERE is a film by director Vicki Abeles


  1. I am still in the early days of this race to nowhere and I think I am at least a little bit lucky to live in a relatively rural place where my boys will have fewer choices due only to our isolated location (no private schools, fewer activities, no competition to get into the right preschool).

    Usually I complain about the lack of opportunity here, but your post made me reframe that thought in a positive way: maybe there is such a thing as too much opportunity?

  2. Kristen: Thank your lucky stars. I am convinced that too much opportunity isn't necessarily a good thing. The other thing you will hopefully avoid are the other 'mommy' voices creating fear and havoc in your lives.

  3. Part of the reason we moved to the Vineyard 9 years ago was to take a step back, live a slower life and have fewer choices. With my kids I've always stressed that doing well can lead to more choices for college, and that proved to be correct with my older daughter. My son didn't try too hard and we pay the price in loans. You have to do what you think is best for your boys, and it sounds like you are. I find it admirable; many people don't even think about it.

  4. My wish is that I had thought more about school districts when I bought my house 17 years ago - before I had kids! Since my son's at a private Jewish day school and there's no high school connected to it, all the kids are moving on, so they've all had to check out various options, but probably no more than 2-3 each. We looked at 2.

    At certain schools we've been affiliated with, there have always been the really ambitious parents. That's never been my thing. Finding the place where my son is happy has happened here and there. Turns out that when I find the most normal parents I invariably find the most normal kids.


  6. I subscribe to the theory that busy kids have less time to get into trouble. While I wouldn't say I overbook my kids, I do let them sign up for and try whatever they want, and I do insist that the follow through on commitments.

    Even here in Po-Dunk-Nowhere (OK, I grew up in SF ... I think the whole state of OR qualifies) I occasionally hear from other parents how I'm doig my kids a dis-service by putting them in Public Schools or not getting them private music lessons at a young age or ... the list goes on.

    I do my best to ignore them. I'm happy with how my kids are turning out. My kids are happy. That's what matters.

  7. Here's the opposite view point, just to help you see both sides. Our biggest priority in raising kids was that I be home with them. It meant we lived very tightly, money wise. (Archaeology does not pay well) My kids had lots of 'free' opportunities - hiking with daddy, exploring state parks, finding our own family adventures - but very few paid-for opportunities. Two of them have played soccer for one year each. But unless the school offered it as a club, my kids didn't get to do it.
    I feel like we've raised four pretty relaxed kids, stress wise. Each does as well in school as their personality dictates. Some we have to monitor/push more than others.
    But I have my own regrets and wishes. I truly think several of my boys would have done great in music lessons. My oldest son, who runs a mean cross country track time in school sports, has always been a natural in sports and may have done really well in baseball and such. We'll never know.
    But then again, we didn't spend lots of afternoons driving to practices and games. I rarely shuffled younger siblings to games.
    As a mom, I'll always wonder...which would have been a better choice for my kids?
    They are four pretty great people (most of the time) so I'll just have to be content watching where they go from here.
    Does this make you feel better? (I hope so!)


  8. As a recent high school graduate, I can offer the perspective of someone who went through this same thing not too long ago. I always took on as many activities as possible, and although often I "bit off more than I could chew," I thrived off the busyness. It taught me how to manage my time and stay organized. My younger sister is the opposite of me. She is more introverted, and is a very independent learner. She knows how to say no to people and to know how much she can take on, and she values her "down time". I respect her enormously for this, because she is an amazingly intelligent and insightful young person.

    My point is that different styles work better for different people. I attend a relatively big-name university, and I know my involvement in different areas helped me get here. But I'm not worried about my sister. College counselors and admissions officers always say that they are looking for quality over quantity. A frantic plethora of things to put on a resume is not what they want from applicants, at least in my experience. If students have one or two activities or interests that they are good at, passionate about, and committed to, not only will this show through in college essays and interviews, they will be content people.

  9. Thank so much for your insights. I love hearing from a recent grad. What I have learned from all this is different strokes for different folks. But you have to know your child and figure our what's important to them.

  10. Terry I never ever saw you as one of the moms that was racing toward the "road to nowhere." You always have those boys' best interests at heart, and you are an amazing mom. I hope I can only be as strong and wonderful of a mom to my boys as you are to your boys. Give them both a hug, especially Will. You are one of the "normal" parents. Seriously. xoxo

  11. Hi Terry - Kristen from Motherese directed me to your blog. I have two teenage boys as well. My eldest is 16 and a junior in HS and my youngest is 13 and in the 8th grade.

    I'm amazed by the pressure that the kids are under today. The SATs for example, I didn't study for them and was satisfied with slightly above average score. My eldest has taken SATs and ACTs already. He wants to take the SATs over again to see if he can get a better score. He had his list of colleges selected in the 9th grade. He's taking classes now that I took in college. Luckily, we live in an excellent school district and the boys have always gone to public school. He WANTS to do everything but my hubby and I tell him to slow down and have fun. Truly I think it's society that pushes the kids.