Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Today is the Big Day (#SHSAT)

My kid is taking the New York City high school entrance exam as I write this. He's probably answering the last five or six questions on the math section. His favorite part.

For those of you living in the city with middle school-age kids, you understand why my cortisol levels have been off the chart this morning (I'm sure yours have been, too). I keep checking the time, wondering how he's doing, if he's calm or freaking out. If he thinks the test is less difficult than he thought, or if he's like, "F*ck, this is hard!" 

I have mixed feelings about the Specialized High School Admissions Test (also known as the SHSAT, or "Sshh-Zat!" - said with emphasis on the "Z," like my 13-year-old pronounces it). Ever since we started this journey it has been a source of great expectation and great anxiety. I had a good cry this morning, after Caden left for school. The day started off as any other - got the kids up, made them breakfast (ham and over-easy egg on an English muffin). Izzy usually eats first, then walks to school with daddy. Caden has breakfast after little sister leaves. He was in good spirits. His usual unaffected teenage self, checking his text messages and watching TikTok videos while munching on his egg muffin. He left the last bite untouched, said he was finished and put on his backpack. I gave him a huge bear hug and my baby was out the door. I said goodbye and watched him descend the stairs to the apartment's foyer and out the building. I shut the door and had a good cry.

I wasn't expecting to engage in a full on ugly cry. The tears and snot just flowed. I guess it was release? Releasing him to the world and releasing all the anxiety, hope, expectation and preparation that has gone into this journey - all culminating in this one single day?

This year more than 27,000 New York City eighth graders will take the high-stakes and controversial SHSAT. How you perform on this exam is the sole criteria for admission to one of the city's eight selective public high schools - Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and five others. Caden's top choice is Stuyvesant High School. Last year 22,338 students applied. 776 seats were offered. You do the math.

Many families here see the test as the golden ticket to a world-class, first-rate high school education. But with every potential opportunity comes its flip side: pinning hopes and dreams on ONE EXAM is a lot of pressure. Caden has told me about friends of his who have been prepping for the test since 4th grade. The fourth grade?! When we arrived in New York this summer, Caden pretty much jumped in at the deep end, submersing himself in everything SHSAT - going to tutoring twice a week, studying and taking half a dozen practice exams. That was four months of prep. Preparing for four years just sounds crazy. But this is New York. Everything is turned up to 15 around here.

If your kid's SHSAT results don't make the cut - or if your child opts out of the exam - there are some 700 high school programs to chose from throughout the five boroughs. Thumbing through the 2020 NYC High School Admissions Guide is like looking over the menu at Katz's Deli - so many, too many, options! We were standing in line at a high school open house last night and my first thought was, "This is so stupid!" The line was practically three blocks long, wrapped around 8th Avenue and 42nd Street. Nervous parents behind me were discussing the SHSAT and other high school options. "Are you looking into private schools, too?" one parent asked the other. "Yup. Gotta have back ups!" she said. Private high school is a feasible "back up" if you have the $24,000 a year for tuition

I think what gets me most about the way school is done here is the complete lack of diversity. Black and Latino students are grossly underrepresented at the specialized high schools. In fact, segregation has been the story of New York City's schools for 50 years. "It wasn't supposed to be this way in New York, one of the country's most diverse cities with more than 8 million people and 800 languages," producer Sweta Vohra writes in The New York Times. "And yet, it has one of the most segregated school systems in the nation." It's why the SHSAT is a controversial and anger-inducing and opinion-generating lightning rod. The mayor wants to get rid of it. Lobbying groups like the Education Equity Campaign want to keep it. White and Asian parents say dismantling the SHSAT would disproportionately hurt their kids. 

It's 1:14pm which means my son is done with the exam. He's probably eating lunch with his buddies, discussing which parts of the test were easy, hard, etc. Maybe they're not even talking about it. Moving on to more important topics: girls, Fortnite and Halloween plans.

Whatever happens now is out of my hands. That's the thing about life. You can control only so much. You have a goal, a dream, a vision. You make plans and prepare. You execute to the best of your ability. Then you wait, pray and release the rest. I told Caden last night before bed, "I'm proud of you. You're shooting for the stars, you committed to this and worked really hard. No matter what the result, you have already succeeded!"  

Thursday, September 19, 2019

On challenging myself

I like marking big milestones with things that scare me. 

When I turned 40 I signed up for ballet. Nothing like squeezing into a way-too-tight leotard and having to look at your reflection in full-length studio mirrors for 90 minutes straight. It’s either self-image making or breaking, depending on your state of mind – or how many glasses of wine you’ve consumed. Turns out I loved it so much I took classes for two years. My legs thanked me and I was humbled by what my 40-year-old self was able to accomplish: deep pliĆ©s, dizzying turns, putting metaphorical "ribs on a shelf" (it took me six months to really understand what my teacher meant and what that finally felt like!).

I'm heading into year 45 in a few weeks. I've been feeling the itch. My soul feels restless. Which means it's time, once again, to challenge myself. In keeping with the Do Something That Scares You tradition, I've decided to enroll in a creative writing course. Ten weeks of Fiction at Gotham Writers Workshop, starting on Monday. 

The thought of walking into a classroom after 17 years is both exhilarating and jarring. Even more terrifying is the prospect of baring my soul to a group of strangers (Grace Paley said writing fiction is such a personal, empathetic act). But I'm also looking forward to how I will bloom. This anticipation far outweighs my apprehension.

If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you...

No one is impressed you're turning 45. (HuffPost)


Monday, September 16, 2019

Monday motivation on the R train

While I am totally unmotivated this morning, I'm hoping watching these guys will change that.

Try these get-off-your-butt quotes to get the week going. (Everyday Power) 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

First day of (a new) school

And all the parents in New York said, “Woot woot!!” 

But seriously, this is a big day and a big year for these two - brand new schools in a new city, making new friends, meeting new teachers, navigating a new campus and learning where and how they fit in in their school culture. 

It’s exciting and scary to start all over again. I’m so proud of my bear cubs!

Back-to-school tips for parents. (The Onion)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

We are now that country

Are you like me and mad as hell about the senseless deaths occurring all around us, every day, because of gun violence? Just days after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton left 32 dead and 51 injured, Amnesty International issued a news alert warning international travelers to steer clear of visiting the US. 

"Travelers to the United States should remain cautious that the country does not adequately protect people's right to be safe, regardless of who they might be," Ernest Coverson, campaign manager for the End Gun Violence Campaign at Amnesty International USA, said in a press release. "People in the United States cannot reasonably expect to be free from harm - a guarantee of not being shot is impossible. Once again, it is chillingly clear that the US government is unwilling to ensure protection against gun violence."

Our country's rampant gun violence amounts to a human rights crisis. Why will our elected officials do nothing about it? Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Power must go back to the people, and not within the powerful lobbying interests of the NRA

If you're like me and feel helpless, there are a number of things we can do right now:

Let's take our country back. 

Gun violence in 2019, so far. (Wikipedia)