I try very hard to get a handle on the tiger mom that lies within. You know, the one who gets competitive and wants everything to be the best. When my boys joke about a “B” being the Asian “F” I grimace. When I was in high school this was the kiss of death. At fourteen I had known what universities I would apply to and, with my high school counselor’s help, worked towards that goal.
Over the years I’ve learned I must sit alone on this topic. If surrounded by like-minded individuals it brings out the very worst in me. It is the reason my two older sons left the sport of swimming in 2012; the year of the summer Olympics. Michael Phelps was everywhere and my sons wanted none of it. Amongst peers and parents seeking future Olympians the love of the sport was lost. I sat in the stands, amongst these parents, as they advised me which coach to request while also reading Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A dad summed it all up. Why pay for swimming if you don’t want to be competitive? If you want to swim for recreation, find a community pool instead.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy competitions and the motivation to be the best me that I can be. I love to cheer as a spectator in the stands for all things: sports, the arts or academics. It is when the intensity becomes too high; when the motivation factor is for all the wrong reasons, that I shut down. It is one of the toughest lessons I’ve learned over the years as a mother. Letting go.
So when the eldest nonchalantly handed me a paper to sign to drop AP Physics and to add a second music course; I had been caught off-guard. His high school counselor approved of this course of action after two months of debating class schedules. The son had already opted out of another AP class, after he insisted he wanted to take two, and after attending various parent meetings about rigor of schedule for college admissions, my mind went still. Watching the college mania from fellow parents this past year I knew this was going to be a problem for me. Thus, over spring break I read the book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni; mentally gearing up for the years that lie ahead. My son is a freshman.
While at a school sponsored sporting event I listened to the parents in the stands, calling out to their kids. They noticed scouts on sidelines with cameras and speed guns looking for the next NCAA athlete. I cringed as they coached their sons and daughters; going against what the coaches were telling them. As parents we all want what is best; we can’t help it. But when our implicit desires conflict with our child’s; there is a problem.
I folded and tucked the drop slip between my printer and stapler. I chose not to look at it for the rest of the weekend; much to my son’s consternation.
But he would not let it go. The subject was revisited while with family; amongst them a middle school teacher for a charter school. All of the adults agreed. Why do you need to take two music classes? Without a cogent answer it was agreed upon that this son should do the research. Having two music classes, just because he wanted to, was not the acceptable answer. He needed to argue his point and present his reasoning. And so he went to various sites online to search colleges in the areas of interest he wants to pursue. After the third day he defiantly announced he would keep his schedule; to appease the parental units. My red flags went up. At the hubs’ suggestion we finally had to group email the counselor, the director and the instructor.
Neither of the first two chose to answer my email query. The counselor had already spoken directly to our son. There was no comment from the director. But surprisingly, the instructor weighed in and pounced on the same line of reasoning this son found on the various websites of top universities.
There are so many ways to navigate one’s way through high school, and it is specific to each student’s ability to balance good grades with a great attitude.
“Choose your activities because they delight, intrigue and challenge you, not because you think they’ll look impressive on your application.” “Prepare for MIT.” MIT Admissions RSS N.p., Web. 06 Jun. 2015.
“So the problem can often be well-meaning but misguided parents who try to mold their children into an image of success they value; and their children, being moldable as they are, often get on board and go along with the program before they have any capacity to make such a choice for themselves. Yet the paradox is that the only road to real success is to become more fully oneself, to succeed in the field and on the terms that one defines for oneself.” “Preparing for College: Building a Path to Academic Success.” Harvard College Admissions & Financial Aid RSS N.p., Web. 06 Jun. 2015.
The son plopped his stack of printed “research” upon my desk and stalked off as another day went by. It had surprised me as I leafed through the literature, both in the sites he chose and the one sentence summary he stated. Balance, diversity and his true love, jazz. The syncopated rhythm of Count Basie could be heard on his desktop as he studied for finals. Later that evening, as sleep eluded me; my answer finally came. It was the one I should have known all along and I was ashamed I never saw it.
I had gotten lost in the mania I was trying to avoid and it is the reason my high school years are some of my least favorite. In a competitive high school, such as my son’s, opting out of AP would take him out of the top ten. He would not have the same choices I had as a senior. Ranked third in my class I was accepted by all of my colleges; including the one I had aspired to from the very beginning. It offered me a full ride scholarship for the course of study I wanted to pursue and I returned my letter of intent; elated. And then I received the brochure from the university that did not offer me a full ride but had the one thing none of the others had.
A nationally known music program and marching band.
I withdrew my letter of intent. When people asked why I chose not to attend the university I had aspired to they were flummoxed when my answer came down to music. I do not stay in touch with many of my high school classmates. The few are the ones who have stood in my wedding, are godmothers to my children or are still a part of my life. But the bonds I forged in college remain strong; my friends from marching band and the dorms as they held my hand in labor or stood beside me, as maid of honor, on my wedding day. It is music that is always my salve. Who was I to take this joy from my own son when years before, I made the same choices?
The hubs had slowly come to this same conclusion on his own. He understands my tiger mother tendencies and likens me to a lioness, instead. Lionesses hunt and gather in social groups; whereas tigers live a solitary existence. These social groups help me navigate through this season of motherhood and I am forever grateful for their wisdom and insight. Their diverse perspectives are welcome as we all muddle through this together.
On the last day of school the son carefully tucked the folded drop slip into his backpack. It may be the only year he will have this opportunity; as the rigorous schedule builds in the following years where he will have to only choose one music class. These are important years of growth and discovery and it is not I who should be defining them. I’ve had my turn. Now it is his.