Monday, April 26, 2010

A Blessed Thing!

Saturday was Welcome Day at my youngest son's new high school. He was given a t-shirt reminding us that 2014 is the year of his graduation. Like I need another reminder.

My husband drove him to Welcome Day early Saturday morning. Dropped him off and then went to Trader Joe's and Safeway-- part of Tom's weekly Saturday morning routine.

The night before I thought we had made a plan. He would stay with him until his exam and then I would arrive after the test.

The students had to take a math placement exam at 9:30 and then meet with an advisor to pick out their courses and then have lunch with a group of total strangers.

The parents were supposed to gather to learn more about the school and get to know one another.

And my husband just dropped him off. He is the second child and I'm sure that's why he is so well adjusted but, he just dropped him off.

When I called at 9:00am to check on Will and found out he was at Trader Joe's I went berserk. I mean, it's a brand new school and he just left him there to fend for himself.

Of course, I jumped in the shower and flew over to the high school. I was right there when young Will exited his exam.

And of course, he was fine. He found a friend to sit with and seemed completely at ease with the entire process.

First lesson. I freak way too easily. But we all know that. And just because I freak doesn't necessarily mean my kids will freak. I should have learned this already. But I'm a bit thick in the head. I over mommy. I know. But, he just dropped him off!

After I got over that...(DEBATABLE IF I EVER DID!) the rest of the day was wonderful. It was great to feel like the young Mom again. I have a rising freshman. Let's forget about the almost rising senior I have living with me and concentrate with the 'almost' freshman.

Will is such a great kid but I still worry that the kids will play nice, that he won't get too stressed with homework and exams and that he will make a couple of good friends.

It seems I worried about the same things when he went off to kindergarten.

A wonderful friend called me on Friday. She happened to be at our town's post office when the local elementary school kids were visiting on a field trip. She reminisced about the times when all three of her kids did the exact same field trip. They all get weighted like a piece of mail. It's so incredibly sweet.

My heart ached for a moment. I remember that field trip as well. Now, I'm sending Will into high school.

And now I know high school goes so quickly. A blink of an eye. The years melt into each other, as the kids try and discover who they are and what they want. The years are a harsh and tender. On both mother and sons, fathers and daughters. They are fraught with emotional challenges and exhaustions.

In the end, I think the last one standing wins.

In my case, the jury is still out. But I will have two high school boys next year, God willing. And it is a blessed thing!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Impossible Dream!

Huffington Post has a whole section now dedicated to College. I read a piece this morning that touted Wesleyan's highly selective acceptance rate, "The Numbers Are In: Class of 2014 Even More Selective." The Senior Associate Dean of Admission said that "selecting the class this year was a more demanding process because he found himself reading application after application and thinking, 'great student, obvious admit. Do that three or four times and you realize that you’re admitting at 100 percent, when you should be admitting students at a rate of 20 percent.' "

Wesleyan had been Kyle's top choice before we visited last summer. Thank goodness he felt that it was a bit too far from a city for his liking.

But what if it was still is top choice?

The mean SAT score for Wesleyan is 730. For those of you not in the college process right now that means that half the kids admitted are scoring 730 in all three sections of the SAT. To put it in perspective, the average high school student who takes the SAT gets 500 in all three categories. To put it more in perspective, when we took the SAT, there were two sections, if you broke 1,000 you were doing great.

I recently looked at Kyle's SAT breakdown and was astonished. To get a 730 on this lovely test, you probably can miss one or two problems a section. That's it. All those bubbles, over four hours of bubbles and you can only miss a couple of questions.

When Kyle first took his STAR ( California's Standardized Testing and Reporting) test the spring of his second grade year, he was a bit nervous. I gave him great advice at the time. I didn't put much merit in the STAR test so I told him to make pretty patterns with his bubbles. He gave me a smile and happily went off to school to fill in a pretty patterned worksheet. I would love to give him the same advice today. The problem is he wouldn't take it.

No, these kids actually study for the SAT. Thousands of dollars are spent on tutors. Hours upon hours of practice tests are wasted. Ways to game the system are taught. All in the hopes that you will be let into a school you want to go.

This summer my passionate, almost 17-year-old will spend hours studying for this exam. He wants to improve his score in the hopes he will have better chances getting into college.

He's 17! He should be working at a restaurant or a car wash, saving money to go out with his friends. No, the college counselors tell you, the summer before your senior year is very important for college admissions. You need to do something that will look good on your application. Something that helps market you as a student and as an individual. And all the while be studying for the SAT's.

Kyle will be attending Boy's State in June and then he will go to Fencing Nationals in Atlanta in July. He has an internship set up and maybe an hour or two to get an ice cream or visit with friends. I'm being sarcastic but it sucks. And I must have your common application essay done by the time you go back to school. Trying to fit writing all your applications into the first semester of your senior year is supposed to be very difficult. You know, the colleges really care that you are taking the most challenging classes your high school Kyle is taking calculous, and doubling up in English and History, plus taking AP BIO. He is dropping Spanish! OMG. Lot of thought. Colleges don't like it when you drop a language.

Once upon a time, we spent long summers doing nothing. Mornings turned into lazy afternoons and soon evening approached. We watched movies together into the night and delighted in the freedom summer brought.

Well, not this year. This year is all about college. I dread the thought of college, have since the moment Kyle was born. But now I dread college for a whole new reason--the stress and strain it puts on seriously wonderful kids and their weary old mothers.

We all know the problem. But how do we fix it? I would love to hear your points of view? I can write about this until I'm blue in the face but until we really decide to challenge what we want for our kids, as a community and as individuals, nothing will ever change. It's just too heavy a cost this generation of kids will pay--these once idealistic teenagers who are now addicted to another, far more threatening "Impossible Dream!"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rushing Universities

600 students and parents plus 85 college admissions directors filled my son's high school last night. It was a mock admission's evening. Let me explain. Parents and kids were all sent a packet of information last week. Included in our reading was a profile of a fictitious small liberal arts college and three, also fictitious, applications to said college.

Our mission was to become "admission directors" ourselves and discuss the merits of each student to decide who we should select into our highly selective school.

I was looking forward to this event and found the whole process interesting. But this morning, in the bright light of day I have come to some startling conclusions.

But, before I get to that, let me set the scene. After we broke into small groups to discuss the candidates as they are called, the fictitious leaders in our groups, who are actually real 'admissions directors' set up tables in the school's gym for a college fair. Kids and their parents pick up nicely printed information about the different schools and try and get a little face time with the admission directors. This reminded me of something. I just couldn't quite figure out what.

When it hit me, it hit me hard.

First, let me come clean. When I attended college, I did the first thing that really disappointed my father--I joined a sorority. He hated anything that was inclusive and was disappointed that I had let my idealistic standards down. I was commuting from home and needed to make this huge school feel smaller so I joined Delta Gamma. Anchors Away!

I didn't fully understand what my father was getting so annoyed about until I was on the other side of rush. I spent a week judging other young women to see if the would "fit" into our house--DGHOOD. It was one of the most disturbing experiences of my young life.

After chatting with someone for a very limited time you had to decide whether you wanted this person as a "sister." Being nice was definitely not good enough. During our nightly meetings we had three paddle, one that had the letters NGB written on it. You could vote Ya or Na or NGB. NGB meant Nice Girl But.....

I was disgusted. It was the last Rush I attended until last night.

From a few pieces of paper I was supposed to evaluate an entire human being in the pretense that I am are trying to see if this candidate would fit into my school and be able to handle our academic rigor.


It felt just like Rush. You see, you want to have the best house, with the best girls, the cutest, most fun, and most connected. You want to attract the best frat boys so beautiful girls are important. You want those girls who also have great personalities because, hey, you have to live with them. And if daddy is rich, perhaps he'll donate some money and turn the crappy living room into a spanking new parlor.

So, reading between the lines, universities and colleges have become big business. They want their student body to be filled with kids with great numbers, high GPA's and even higher test scores. This makes the school look sexy and more desirable--makes them look IVY LEAGUE. They also want a certain diversity, because, hey, that looks good and they want kids that will win awards because they can use this in their marketing materials. RUSH all over again. And if daddy can give money, added plus. Big, fat plus!

When we all entered the gym for the college fair, I began my slow parade around to the different tables. I caught myself.

I walked to the one empty side of the gymnasium and sat my large derriere down on the wooden floor. I couldn't do it! First, this was Kyle's thing, not mine. Plus I just didn't want to play the game.

Kyle doesn't think he has the option not to play the game. I don't think most kids or their parents realize that they can opt out. It is a contest, like Rush, who can get into the best house, oops, I mean college.

I got into a great house--DG was known and is still known as a "good house." I chose the house, just like it was choosing Yale or Brown. I might have been happier at Chico State but I would have thought why would I choose Chico State if Brown wants me.

The answer is simple. It might have fit me better. But like so many of our "rising" seniors, I was a snob.

If, as a potential sorority or fraternity member or as a "candidate" for college we take the control, then we have a system that works so much better. But I guess that is not in our nature. Somehow we want the best, defined by what is the most desirable, the hardest to get into, the one with the best looking girls!

I didn't sit alone against the back wall last night, I sat next to a new friend, a painter, an artist. We talked for the time it took our son's to wander around the gym. I enjoyed her. I had fun. Instantly, I was out of this frenzied room and into an interesting conversation.

We should make the choices of ours lives--the choices we really have some control over. Who we want to be friends with, what we want to do with our time here on earth are things we can assert a certain amount of control over. We know, or perhaps sometimes we forget, so much of what happens in life is out of our control. I think in this frenzied, made-up, well marketed world of colleges we forget that.

Last night was a great reminder.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Summer plans?

I want that summer vacation. Those blissful couple of weeks I can spend with my family all together, intact. I crave these days that now seem so hard to replicate. I want them with every fiber of my being.

But I don't know where to go. We don't have a lot of extra cash floating around these days so I was wondering if I could get suggestions from my friends out there.

We have to be in Atlanta in early July for a fencing tournament. Are there southern beach towns I should know about? Should I do a house swap or rent an apartment or small house?

I really want to go to Capri or St. Tropez, or Santorini but the plane flights are so expensive. And perhaps the ash hanging over Iceland will still linger for months to come.

So, my friends, fellow readers, travelers, adventurers what shall we do as a family? I am trying hard, too hard to hold on to the past. I want those lazy days when my sons were small, where time seemed to stand still. Or am I just imaging that?

Any great trips you have taken? I can't wait to hear.

Anyways, suggest away. At least I can armchair travel.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Countess and The Absinthe

A complete day, yesterday. It was nothing if it was not complete. I savored the moment filled with insanity. Let me explain.

My young son has a friend visiting from New York. He moved back many years ago, but the two boys who went to pre-school together remain friends.

We made waffles in the morning. Lots and lots of waffles. And no sooner was breakfast complete that lunch began. I made the mistake to ask what they wanted. Another boy had joined them. BLT's came the answer. I ran to the market and picked up perfect sourdough bread. I feel I bit like the Kitchen Witch as I write this blog. Her blog always makes me laugh, while my mouth waters.

I fried up more bacon than I have ever fried. I cut up the tomatoes, and sliced the bread. I washed the lettuce and then ran out of the house.

You see, I had a dinner to prepare. I was entertaining last night. The table was set with the nice silver and Mom's black and white Wedgwood china. I used my grandparent's silver.

The Countess and her friend from London were coming over for dinner. I had never met either one of them. My friend from Los Angeles was driving up and on his way to my house. These were his friends. Well, one of them was. The Countess was his friend's friends. I have learned not to ask too many questions. So bare with me.

I dropped the 13-year-olds off at the movie and finally came home to prepare dinner. I had marinated chicken in all sorts of herbs, prunes and olives. I was going to make asparagus with a salad, and of course some couscous. It's not a difficult meal, but then there is cheese to buy and crackers, loaves of french bread and some kind of desert. It had to be chocolate and decadent. My friend from LA loves chocolate, lives for it actually.

As soon as I entered my home my cell phone signaled me. Kyle was texting to tell me to let him know when I was at his school. Wait, he was getting a ride home today. "No," he texted. His friend ended up blowing him off and I had to collect him. His school is about 20 minutes away from exactly the same direction from which I came after dropping the 13-year-olds at their movie.

So back on the freeway. Back to school. I collected Kyle. On my way up there, my friend from LA gave me a call. "I'm close by. What do I need to pick up for dinner?"

I told him I had everything covered. "She's a vegetarian," he said. "My friend who is joining us doesn't eat meat."

I screamed into the phone, "But does she eat chicken. Find out if she eats chicken." I panicked a bit. I had so much to do. So much.

I arrived at the movie theater too early. So Kyle and I ran into H&M and took a quick stroll around the clothing store. We had a little time before the kids would be out of the theater. He found some clothes for the grand total of $28.00. I love this store. Then the phone call. "She eats chicken!" Thank goodness.

Then we collected the boys and raced home. I found my LA friend inside the house, sweating more than I had seen him sweat in a long time. He had just finished cleaning all our windows. And we have lots of windows.

He insisted on buying flowers and more paper towels. The message was clear. My friend wanted the house to look nice, really nice. He had cleaned off our dock and washed the windows. He looked in the fridge to make sure the dinner looked satisfactory.

Then I knew I had to get into hight gear. I cooked and cleaned and finally got in a quick shower. The guests had arrived. Charming ladies.

We had a great time and my dinner worked just fine! By the time my husband cracked open the Absinthe everyone had gone a bit mad.

I was so proud of the 13-year-olds, they stayed entertained by the evening the entire night. They were part of the party. To me the very heart. And my new friends included them graciously and lovingly. Conspirators and friends.

By the time the guests left, the ones were not staying at my house, it was quite late. Will's friend was spending the night as was my friend from LA. Tom and I finally crawled into bed. It was late. I was tired. But then, one by one, each member of the household found their way into our room. They sat on the bed and we told jokes and laughed. My friend from LA thought it appropriate that we break into a rendition of "My Favorite Things," from the Sound of Music.

It felt complete in a way nothing has felt fully complete in such a long time. I even sang. I can't carry a tune but I had to sing, "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens..."

When I closed my eyes to fall asleep I felt at peace. Peaceful until my dear husband began to snore. I listened to his snores for over an hour.

The night felt right in the strangest of ways. A way I think all the kids will always remember. A Countess, a lovely new friend from Dorset, my old, dear friend from LA, all sitting around my dining room table. And then there were the 13-year-olds, eagerly engaged and having a blast.

Will's friend insisted we listen to the "PINK MARTINIS."

Complete. I like complete.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Crazy Woman with the Tiny Black Patin Leather Bag!

Dear Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla, one of my all time favorite blogs, passed on the 'What's in Your Bag' challenge.

I have thought a lot about what's in my little, black patin leather bag a long time and wondered what it says about me.

My contents are quite simple--but I'm anything but simple.

1. my ordinary cellphone
2. a worn out pierre dieux satchel with a few credit cards, my driver's license and insurance cards
3. reading glasses, because I'm old
4. one tampon, because I'm old (have I ever told you that before) and I never now when I'm going to get my period because I'm at that old lady stage of life

That's about it. EXCEPT I have lots of crumpled up receipts. So, you see I think I am quite organized in the most disorderly way.

AND THERE IS ONE MORE THING THAT GIVES ME AWAY COMPLETELY. I have very few things in my bag, I know, but this one thing, well, it speaks volumes. I have an old, empty Pepsid bottle that I have filled with the "just in case" meds. For example, I have some pretty normal 'just in case' meds. Just in case my son's leg starts to hurt (he was born with a disease that causes benign bone tumors in his left leg), I have advil. Just in case my stomach gets upset from worrying about my son's leg, Tums and a Pepcid. But then it starts to get interesting. Just in case one of my kids gets stung by a bee and they start to go into anaphylaxis shock (they have never had this reaction but I don't think Will has ever been stung by a bee, so just in case) Benadryl. Just in case I'm having a heart attach, a baby aspirin. Just in case someone else is having a heart attack, a second baby aspirin.

I'm a walking pharmacy. And just in case my back starts to hurt I stuff all this into the lightest little bag possible.

Now what does this say about me. Don't need a degree in psychology to figure this one out!

I would love to know what's in Kathleen's bag from, in Judy's purse from, and in Theresa's pocketbook from

I would also so love to know your psychological evaluation of me based on the contents of my bag!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What Happened to the girl from Los Angeles?

It's been a long time since I last wrote a post. I have thought about writing everyday. But I was busy living and consciously decided to let myself experience my feelings without judgment or comment.

I am now ready to comment.

We started spring break two weeks ago Friday. My husband and I picked up our sons from school, piled their book bags into our car and headed for Los Angeles. It was a long drive filled with traffic and The Great Gatsby. Thank God for Jay Gatsby. His story, told to me on tape, got me all the way to LA without thinking about the chaos I was about to step into. And I needed to think about Jay as I tried to fall asleep each night in a city where I once lived and that I barely recognized anymore.

Long analytical papers about Iran/US relations, a difficult pre-calculous test, and a paper for environmental science behind him, Kyle was exhausted. He fell fast asleep until our car hit Sunset Boulevard.

And then we never slept again. It began with a day of sparkling orange and green entertainment. Nickelodeon had arrived in LA and all the stars came out. Will and I walked the "orange" carpet by mistake right behind the Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber. I was stunned that everything looked so very different to me. I once felt comfortable walking the carpet. Comfortable with agents and managers. Comfortable being in the spot light or even one of the many producers for shows like Extra and E! and CNN's Showbiz! Will took it all in stride. But I was surprised how glossy everything looked. Nothing seemed real to me anymore in this land I used to call home. But I enjoyed the slime and little kids clutching their autograph books looking for the next celebrity's signature. I loved the kids and remembered why I loved working for Nickelodeon. It is a huge, impressive organization now but it still has a soul. I am happy to know its soul.

Then parties and slime and a dinner with Kyle's girlfriend and her family who were also visiting LA. I loved the night. I felt I belonged here with these people that were real and thoughtful.

But the night floated into the next day and I found myself in Malibu. We ate lunch at the Malibu Mart and the kids played ping pong as I wondered into the glamorous stores. Everyone donned a smile and a perfect body. We bought over-priced T shirts and laughed with friends that I have known forever.

We rushed back to Brentwood for a trendy Japanese dinner before Kyle and I dropped off Tom and Will at LAX. We were on our own now. In my land. In LA land. It was time for Kyle's college tour and his indoctrination into Tinsel Town.

If I don't ever visit another University I will be happy. Beautiful campuses, robust student bodies, admission directors explaining that indeed they take the top ten percent of the senior classes.

Kyle turned to me, "What happens to the other 90%?" He had a good question. We laughed and walked and liked all the same things. I was with my 16-year-old and I was loving every minute of it.

He got himself invited to see Paul McCartney at the Hollywood Bowl. In a box seat no less. He was truly now part of the LA scene. He had arrived and I was not sure how I felt about it. I never felt like LA corrupted me but I could see how easily one could become one of "them," the pretty people. The movers and the shakers. The ones that shake more and move less.

We visited campuses and dined at LA's trendiest restaurants. We visited with old friends from elementary school, from high school, from college, from my life in New York.

Finally we found ourselves in Santa Barbara. One last campus. One last tour. One last admissions counselor.

The fun and the stress pulsed in are veins. I was acutely aware that Kyle and I were headed towards our inevitable separation. But I dared not think about it. I pushed it out of my head. Instead I filled my brain with other things to worry about. Lots of things. You name it and I worried about it. I never seem to be too exhausted not to worry.

Will he get into one of the colleges he likes? At what price? What physical price? How do I support him without becoming part of the problem?

Oh, and then there are endless other worries. Worries I am too afraid to share.

I found myself at home again and not at all back to the routine. Kyle has another week off and then Will will begin his spring break. I used to love the endless hours of summer holidays, Christmas vacation, spring break but this year it all seems to be pushing me forward, shoving me into the next phase of life. I am teetering on craving the new time and fighting against it with every fiber of my being.

My husband welcomes me everyday with open arms. He is ready for our life to begin. I am afraid of its sudden and eventual ending. I must dig deep within and with the wisdom of my age, face the life ahead with vigor and vitality. I must find the teenager in me, again. The explorer. The adventurer. The player.

She is there. I know she is. I see her every so often. I love her. I want to see her more. I'm sure my husband does too.