It’s that time of year. We’d been warned since the twins were in middle school (maybe earlier) that eleventh grade sucked. Pardon my language, but not my candor.
It’s true. Eleventh grade sucks like a colonoscopy. The preparation, the build-up, the competition—only our boys don’t have the pleasure of a narcotic to get them through the most important test of their young life. There we were, coasting along, everything seemingly fine, and then wham, it hit like a fast-moving truck, leaving a trail of debris in its wake.
If you’re following Grown and Flown, then you know the trials and tribulations of college acceptances. You know that in today’s hardly standardized test world that’s it’s easier to be drafted to the New England Patriots than to get into your first choice. If I hear one more time from the boys, “It’s so different than when you were applying to college. Today your scores won’t get you very far.”
Why Junior year is so hard
No joke. The boys bet me I wouldn’t get a 30 or higher on one of their practice ACT sections. I’m a published author of three novels, completed my fourth, and writing my fifth. I had discipline and commitment on my side. Who were they kidding? They sat me down with a practice reading section and timer. They gibed one another about what they’d buy with their earnings. I was convinced my age and experience would prove them wrong.
Fast forward roughly six and a half minutes, and I completed four questions, one of which I got wrong. I had no qualms about surrendering. For at least two out of those six minutes my anxiety skyrocketed, and I read and reread passages and relevant questions multiple times. There was real panic. I worried what they’d think. I over analyzed. I worried about being smart enough. I worried to the degree I thought my head was about to spin off my body. No wonder our kids were feeling the pressure.
Enough of that little game.
No matter our children’s scores, they want to do better. It’s an intrinsic desire that blinds the junior class. It doesn’t matter that they are intelligent young men who care about their grades. My husband and I have always prided ourselves (maybe me more than him) in not pushing. Our motto was and remains: do your best. Give your best effort. But what good is best effort when our kids are aiming for an unrealistic “perfect score,” a highly irregular number with enough variables to fill up another blog?
Eleventh grade stress is summed up in a long-winded chant: this is it, this is the year to shine, to do your best work, to exploit rigor, and rock your test scores. And those are merely the external cues. How about the students who internalize, compare themselves to others? Or those who have lost sight as to why they’re working so hard in the first place? Sometimes eleventh grade turns your very own child into his own worst enemy.
Dreams of higher scores infiltrated our conversations. During test season, I tried every motivational speech I possibly could: a number doesn’t define you, you can and you will, dreams don’t work unless you do, it comes down to how bad do you want it? And while my pep talks, at times, contradicted the rigor and academic achievement that colleges expect, I did my best to explain to the boys that there’s so much more to them than a score. They have solid GPAs and participate in high school sports as accomplished athletes, and they began a charity in ninth grade where they have collected over 2,000 shoes for families in need.
And still they aren’t perfect. You’ll never see me post their unmade beds on Facebook or how there’s a constant battle over excessive cell phone use. Like most kids their age, they struggle with balancing their time, and they straddle, often, the fence between being a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. They don’t see it now and I don’t expect them to, but they will one day realize that a number will never define them. It can never define them. My hope is that colleges realize that, sooner rather than later, and we send our kids to schools because they’re the right mix of aptitude, character, and grit.
Tonight our boys took me out to dinner while their dad was away on business. We had just discussed, ad nauseam, colleges and scores and test prep. When the waitress guided us to our table, one of the boys remarked, “Mom, you sit on the chair. The couch won’t be comfortable for your back.” I’d just had a minor procedure and he was right. The chair would be much better for me. During the course of the meal, they checked to see how I was feeling, observed two toddler boys sitting beside us with praise and appreciation, conversed with the mother and daughter on the other side of us, paid the check, and finally, when the waiter spilled my wine glass and it shattered, they were the first to tell the young, apologetic man not to worry. “It’s okay,” they said. “It happens.”
I thought the man was going to cry with relief.
As you approach this critical year, I implore you to ask yourself, what constitutes the perfect score? Is it a number? Is it character? Go deep, really deep. Who do you want your child to be?
Because the perfect score isn’t always a number. It’s so much more. And we know what ours is.