Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Tis the Season. No, not that one.

For those of us who live in San Francisco, the season is upon us. Not for singing carols and baking cookies but for completing those $%**^@ high school applications.

A quick primer for non-natives. The city has many public high schools. Some good, some not so good. You put down your top choices (there are a few exceptions based on merit or auditions) then off your application goes into a lottery. You are notified in March. There are no guarantees.

Last year I watched as a dear friend went through this very process. I did not understand why she fretted about where to apply. Should she consider any parochial or private schools? Would her daughter have the perfect grades to make it into the city's merit-based public high school, and if not, what would her back up plan be?

Back up plan? It all started to sound a lot like college, and as I got a load of the price tags of the non-public schools, a whole lot more expensive. Other parents told me about the essays required on the private and parochial applications as though they were describing the sixth ring of hell. Questions like: describe your child's biggest challenge, what should we know about him/her, if your child was an animal, what would he/she be and why?

Wait, I said. I have to write essays? I thought this was all on my son? Oh no. (Insert evil laughter here.)

Okay. I could do this. Maybe not the animal question, but let's see:

My child's biggest challenge? The twisted part of me wanted to write, "He no longer beats his sister. He makes parole. He no longer stands by our bed at night holding a pairing knife."

What should we know about him? Was I the only person who felt like there was no small level of trepidation in that question? As if there remains anything bizarre the admissions department hasn't seen from a fourteen-year-old boy in all the years of reading these essays?

That got me thinking, how long does it take the poor people who read these missives before they start eyeing the scotch bottle? Can you imagine? The typical mother and father I see dropping off their middle schooler in the morning --- why, they can barely use a directional signal before they try to plow into my car, much less write a biography of their progeny. Not to be elitist (well, maybe a little bit) but I doubt most of them can string a coherent thought together much less sum up the driving force of a teenager who is driving them crazy.

Second thought, neither can I.

What I want to read are the essays that were never written. The ones that would cause the admissions team to stop drinking (or maybe pour a double). "Listen, I know he looks bad on paper: the horrible grades, the disciplinary problems and the restraining order. But you've got to take him off my hands or I'm going to kill him." Or worse, doing away with the faint praise and cut right to the chase. "I'm willing to shell out $30k a year, plus make school donations, plus run the auction, plus sleep with the principal. Do we have an understanding here?" I may actually use that...

On top of all of this is the desire to put yourself in this equation. Reliving your youth is part and parcel of the process. The English class I sat in during one open house made me want to apply to the school myself. Screw my kid. Yet who in their right mind would want to relive High School? Really.

So here I am. My son is looking to me for guidance, even if he won't admit it. He wants independence but the change is daunting. Yet he's changing so fast, how can I capture that in under 250 words? 25,000?

Next question?

No comments:

Post a Comment