Of the million annoyances I encounter daily through life in the city, I’m old enough and defeated enough to realize 999, 997 have nothing to do with me personally, don’t effect me in any way, and are none of my business. Sure, the number changes if you consider what I bitch about in my head, or to Husband, or even here on the blog, but to cause me to speak up and interact with strangers? Not so much.
New York is always under construction. Buildings going up, coming down, being renovated or refaced, streets being dug up or patched. Interesting if you’re young or new to the city, hours of free entertainment if you’re 3, good news if you’re in contracting/construction. I’ve heard people complain about “how much” construction workers earn. I don’t complain. First of all, the salaries vary widely–union/non-union, public or private project, white/”minority” worker–wrong as it is, last I read white guys earned an average of 20% more (I put minority in quotes because whites are not the majority in nyc), etc. Second, these guys* work incredibly hard, back-breaking work in freezing cold, rain, heat and humidity that has most of us hiding inside, sometimes questionable working conditions, and often breathing in shit that I don’t want to think about. Third, the majority of these jobs/workers are highly skilled, and their work is important. Fourth, the risk of serious injury is high. A few of the assignments on the sites aren’t labor intensive, they’re incredibly boring. Like being assigned to open/close the gates and plastic bumpers for pedestrians to pass through in between cartloads of crap being hauled from the fenced in site to the dumpster in the gutter. Boring, but they can’t blow it off or let their minds wander, because that would be a disaster, a law suit, and an unemployment line waiting to happen. Often while working this mind-numbing task, they’re being berated and cursed by veryimportantpeople on their way to veryimportantmeetings who can’t contain their annoyance at being detained for 7 seconds so they don’t get a steel beam through their skull.
See? Look up or look down–construction.
I pass several construction sites daily, multiple times per day, as I take Art Child back and forth to school. The nice part of being a woman of a certain age who’s allowed herself to go gray? I don’t deal with much catcalling anymore. I’ve heard there are a few who find it complimentary. There are also women who like to call their husbands/boyfriends Daddy and greet them at the door with a martini and a smile–but of course that all falls under the annoyances-I-keep-to-myself category, because it’s none of my business. At best catcalling is a background annoyance, often it’s rude and dehumanizing, and at worst it can be frightening. I see a lot of the same guys every day, they smile and say good morning, I respond in kind, and that’s the extent of it.
But the other day I was walking with Art Child and her friend, and one of the workers (who I didn’t recognize, not one of the ones usually on the gate) made a comment to/about my daughter’s friend. Well, of course not so much about her as about her body. My daughter looks younger than her age, her friend does not. Young teenaged girls. Of course she’s attractive. I shook my head, said “no,” and we kept walking. This man–was he drunk?–kept on, calling after us and followed. For the record, he was not a young man. Definitely old enough to know better than to make these types of comments to a girl who could easily have been his daughter. I understand, putting to the side the misogyny of catcalling, when it comes to girls this age, it’s easy to think they’re older, especially if you aren’t looking at their faces. I turned back and said very clearly, “she’s underaged, back off.” Would you believe he kept going, commenting and following a bit more? Of course you believe it, if you’re a female between the ages of oh, say, 10 and 100. Was he delusional? I offered him a couple more words and we kept going. Why did I keep going? Because the girls were creeped out and frightened, and I wasn’t sure if this girl’s mother would be okay hearing about a confrontation afterwards. If I stopped, I was going to get loud. It’s a balance and a judgement call. Sometimes it’s good for young people to see adults doing the right thing, standing up for them and themselves. Other times (when the option is there) it’s better to cool off a bit and deal with situations without young people present.
So I don’t know if this guy was drunk, delusional, or bitter about sweating his balls off in 90° heat. What I do know is that he was confused if he thought this would pass without incident. This morning I had a nice chat with the site manager/foreman, who was responsive, respectful, and took me quite seriously.
a)The word “underaged” holds more than a bit of power. Those 9 letters contain many implications; ethical, moral, and legal.
b) Site workers and managers pay very close attention when you stop and speak. If you’re blocking the pass through, several workers have to stop what they’re doing. Time is money after all.
Women, we don’t have to tolerate predatory behavior, and we shouldn’t.
Moral of the day: Most annoyances can and should be ignored, some should be addressed head on. Oh yeah, and don’t fuck with Mrs Fringe.
*I reference “guys” because while I do/have occasionally seen women working on construction sites, it’s still a field dominated by men–and I’ve yet to hear a female construction worker catcalling.
In less than two weeks, Nerd Child will be graduating from high school. (I suppose I’ll have to change his Fringie name at that point–the current one doesn’t feel so right anymore.) It’s a big deal, not just for him, but for me, and not only in a two-down-one-to-go kind of way. It will mark the end of an era for this mama as a boarding school (bs) parent. The other night a friend of mine asked me about boarding schools because her child is interested. These two things coming up together made me think it made sense to post about our experiences. Disclaimer, I do not and cannot speak for all boarding families, all scholarship boarding families, or all boarding schools. I will try to hit points that I think are fairly universal in the world of being a scholarship family at fancy shmancy boarding schools, but of course, this is all just our experience–and really, my perspective. I know exactly zero about therapeutic, military, or single sex boarding schools (though I’ve heard great things about several of the all-girls schools), or even being a full-pay family at a selective bs. After two kiddos attending two different boarding schools, visiting/touring/interviewing at approximately 30, and 9 years, I’m not an expert.
If you mentioned boarding school to me fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. As far as I was concerned, the term was either a polite euphemism for “juvie” or part of the fictional realm of glam and glitz novels. Ten years ago I had a glimmer, but if you asked if my child would attend, I would have laughed. Actually, I’m pretty sure I did laugh. So how is it that I’m about to see my second child graduate from boarding school? It wasn’t an accident, it didn’t just happen. It was the result of tons of campaigning by Man Child, research and hard work done by me, Husband, Man Child, Nerd Child, and the middle school both boys attended. That and the fact that our home had become the center of medical doom and gloom. Husband wasn’t well, then Art Child wasn’t well, I had a bag permanently packed and at the ready for a hospital admit.
Both my boys went to a small, private middle school here in the city, a prep school that involved ties and dress codes, but not what jumps to mind when you think prep school. This school is bare bones, for gifted, economically disadvantaged inner city kids, with an emphasis on personal responsibility and responsibility to the greater community. Oh, and a no-dating policy. Sound silly? Not at all. Remember, this is middle school. Half the kids are relieved to put off dealing with romantic entanglements. Half aren’t, it’s true. But trust me, the kids don’t ruin their social lives forever by waiting and focusing on an inclusionary community. Dating, by its very definition is exclusionary. The staff/school has connections with the top high schools in the country; parochial, private day, and boarding, and they work hard to make sure each child gets into the schools with the greatest chance of success–and enough financial aid to make it possible.
Kids in NYC, particularly Manhattan, are well versed in the concept of applying to, interviewing for, and being rejected by schools by the time they reach high school admissions. I realize this isn’t the case for much of the country. Is it stressful? Of course it is. But it’s manageable, especially if you, as the parent, keep your balance and don’t convey to your child that any one school, or even one type of school, is the only option. Their chances of getting into a “good” college, their lives aren’t ruined if they don’t get into school A (or B or C), regardless of how glossy the brochure is. So. What’s it like, opening to the possibility of boarding school? It’s exciting, it’s an adventure, it’s a lot of road trips, it’s eight gazillion essays written by you the parent, and 32 gazillion written by your child, it’s fucking terrifying.
I’ve said it before but this can’t be said too many times. BS isn’t for everyone. Not for every family, not for every kid. Your child has to want it. You have to want it for them. You have to know your child. You have to believe your child is going to get up on time, and do their homework without you standing over them. In my opinion, they have to already be doing these things–but I have heard from many parents whose kids weren’t already doing these things, but they figured it out and managed, with time very successfully. You have to be able to take a breath when your child calls, upset over x happening, and figure out whether this is a boarding school upset, a high school upset, something that requires a call to their advisor, or an unplanned trip to eyeball them in person. When/if you go tour, ask the staff, they’ll be honest about how quick they will/won’t be to contact you, it differs with different schools.
Boarding schools do offer tremendous opportunities. Academics are top–in a way I couldn’t have imagined, ten years ago. The teachers are truly passionate and caring. They live there, with your kids, so believe me, they care. Not just in the classrooms, but onstage, in the dorms, on the athletic fields, in the dining hall. Class size is generally not an issue, they’re small. The schools want kids engaged, working, interested, happy, and successful. Trust me, there are many more applicants than seats available. When we’re talking about kids on full scholarships, we’re talking about major investments, averaging btw $40-50,000 per year, per kid–and they expect these kids to stay all four years, do well, contribute to the community, and need the same money every year. Your kiddo won’t be bored. Ever. Not to say there are never problems, they’re kids, life happens–but these kids are kept busy–a lot less room to get into trouble. Your kiddo has been breezing through school? So has every other kid in their class. They stop breezing, and are challenged, while still being supported. Your child’s dorm mates will likely be from all over the country, maybe their closest friend will from Beijing. Or Jamaica. Or Korea or Nigeria. And I mean the friend, not just where the family is from. Most of these highly selective boarding schools have large endowments, allowing them to offer generous financial aid packages–more than their equivalent day schools. Your child will become independent, in amazing and wonderful ways. That said, your kiddo won’t be 13 forever, growth and maturity happens regardless of what type of high school they attend.
There are commonalities among the highly selective BS, but there are many differences. Some things to look at: what are the dorms like? nice? cramped? mixed ages? are there Saturday classes? every week or just a few times a year? are parents always welcome to visit? kids able to come home (if within a reasonable distance) for the weekend if they need/want to touch base or are there many “closed weekends?” is there a way for the child to leave campus and come home by public transportation? is there a dress code? how strict? are meals formal? assigned seating? how is the food, anyway? is there a religious affiliation/how prevalent? how large is the school? some schools are very small, with a total of 300 kids or so, “large” bs are about 1200 kids, not that large compared to many public high schools. what percentage of kiddos are receiving financial aid? Is it needs-blind (needs-blind means the decision to accept or deny is made without looking at financial need, if they believe the child is a good fit/they want them, they offer enough financial aid)? what is the percentage of kids of color? –how does that break down (so called under/over represented minorities), and how much do you/does your child care? are there day students? what percentage? a few schools are 100% boarding, but most are mixed to varying degrees. what is the academic range? are the kids friendly as you pass them on your tour? how strict/what are the rules? different schools expect varying degrees of independence, and offer varying degrees of structure. all BS have active athletic programs, and all kids are expected to participate–how much? do they have to participate in 3 sports each year, can they take a season off, do they have alternatives for kids who aren’t athletic by allowing theater to count as a sport, basic instructional classes, etc? Can your child see themselves there?
Are you ready for the judgement, assumptions, and hairy eyeballs of…everyone? Seriously, everyone. Some will assume you’ve been hiding the fact that you’re a bazillionaire. Many will assume that your kiddo has in fact gotten into serious trouble with the law/drugs and are in juvie or a residential treatment facility. People who have known you as a parent for years (including family members) will assume you are “sending your kid away,” don’t want to parent anymore, aren’t parenting anymore, and/or kiddo hates you–either because you “sent them away” or that’s why they wanted to go in the first place. You can try to explain, but not too much because then it sounds like you’re making excuses or they’ll hear it as you judging them. (I’ve even heard stories of teachers being openly judgmental when asked for recommendations for the applications, the assumption being you either hate your kid or think the local teachers are incompetent.) If you have more than one child and they don’t all go boarding the assumption is you dislike one of them (either the one who stayed or the one who went, take your pick). When friends/family talk about issues with their kiddo attending the local high school, it’s oh-those-teenaged-years; if you talk about the same issue with your kiddo, it’s clearly the result of your horrible parenting that enabled you to send your kid away. This doesn’t ease up, by the way. Most who don’t “get it” still don’t get it 4 years or 4 kids later, with luck they just learn to be quieter about what a horrible and unfeeling bitch you are.
Money. It can’t be ignored, not in life, and not in bs. I thought my boys were well prepared. The staff at their middle school addressed this head on; and we live in Manhattan, in a building that is part of a program designed to keep working class people in the city, on a block that includes 9 million dollar brownstones and project housing. Public school classmates that included families with country houses in the Hamptons, immigrants living in SROs, and families living in homeless shelters. Yeah, no. The level of wealth that can be found in these schools is a whole different playing field. Not that every full pay family is a family of billionaires, many make significant sacrifices so their kiddos can attend, but seriously, some live in a world so different that even after being a part of the boarding school world for 9 years, I can’t grasp it. But your kiddo will. They will when they hear what the other kids are doing with their breaks, hear about familial residences, names they’ve read about in the papers/seen on tv, and when they realize those $20 music lessons you scrimped and finagled don’t mean shit compared to the opportunities and lessons some of their classmates have not only experienced, but live. They may visit classmate’s homes, and then not feel comfortable inviting classmates back to their home, because now they feel the difference. (maybe, depends on the kiddo) Financial aid only goes so far. Speaking of, check those offered packages carefully, there’s a wide difference in how different schools define full scholarship, and those extras can add up quickly, you don’t want to be sitting in a dark house with an unpaid electric bill while your bs kiddo is taking notes in a $12 notebook he charged to your account at the school’s bookstore.
It isn’t about the end game. If you’re only looking at bs because you think that will guarantee your kiddo admission to an Ivy, forget it. First of all, the days of “feeder schools” are long gone. Second, Precious Brilliant Talented Snowflake will be one of 3-1200 precious brilliant talented snowflakes, no one college is taking all of them. Diversity, it’s a good thing–in high schools, in colleges, in life. Third, boarding school is an end game unto itself. The experiences, the growth, the opportunities, the relationships, the way it shapes the way your child sees themselves, others, the world and their place in it; these are valuable unto themselves, to say the least. Bonus: If you’ve done the boarding school application process, by the time they’re applying to colleges the stress is greatly decreased, you and your kiddo have had tons of practice! The flip side is that college tours are harder to schedule and frankly, less impressive.
Most of all, you miss them. Even when you 100 % believe it was the best decision, at the best possible school for them, you miss them. Some kiddos will call/text/Facetime/Skype all the time, and tell you all about their days, some won’t–it’s basic personality, they are individuals, it’s just how it is. And you miss out. Whether it’s a dance or a show or a game or a trip to the ER or an argument. Even when you live close enough, if the financial aid office works with you to help you get there for a visit on parents’ weekend, even if you have a job with enough flexibility to go see the big moments, you miss out on a million small moments. When we dropped Man Child off for the first time, I sobbed all the way home. Heh. I had no idea how much I would/could miss him. Every drop off after that was harder, I think I stopped breathing when Nerd Child left for the first time. I couldn’t go with him, because Art Child had just started middle school the day before, and for the very first time in her school career, she wanted to go to school the next day. He was fine with it, I couldn’t comprehend how I was still walking around.
There are many, many things I wish I could do over in life, different paths, different choices. But given the parameters I have, the life we live, I do not regret allowing my boys to go to boarding schools. They each took exciting, interesting classes, pursued extra curricular interests we couldn’t offer here at home, enjoyed successes and failures they wouldn’t have experienced here. They were safe, loved, and supported. They each had fabulous opportunities, cultivated real and wonderful friendships, received high school educations many colleges can’t match. I didn’t send them away. We let them go, each with a clear safety net and connections to home.
Good grief, this is the longest post I’ve ever written!
Our children; individual human beings, with or without boarding school.
Hello all. Yes, yes, it’s been a while. You know when more time than usual passes in between speaking to a friend, you keep thinking you should call, but the more time passes the harder it becomes to make that call? Yeah. First I was in a bit of a funk; there’s nothing to say, no one cares what I have to say, blah, blah, blah. Then, in the past few weeks, there’s been so much going on I couldn’t decide where and how to jump in. Nothing has happened to me/mine personally, it’s been wonderful having Man Child home, he has a good job, Nerd Child is in the last stretch of high school–drove north and saw his final production the other day–that young man is an excellent director! Art Child is well, Husband is well, Incredibly Stupid Dog continues to forget which end is supposed to be on the pee pad when she lets loose…all good in Fringeland. But the world around me? Prince died, which I took more personally than I have any right to. North Carolina has decided genital checks are in order because thinkofthechildren. The Bernie movement has faltered (to say the least), and Donald Trump has won the GOP nomination.
After two weeks of pretending that last tidbit couldn’t be real, I have to accept it. I have to get on the train. Not the train car supporting him, of course. I feel like it’s rush hour and the car open in front of me is suspiciously empty. If you’ve ever been a subway rider, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, let me give you a tip. When a crowded train pulls in, if the car you’re about to get on is miraculously empty with several open seats, there’s a reason–and that reason usually involves a stench so foul even the most weary and unsteady travelers would prefer to be squashed nose to armpit in the next car.
Yesterday I was having a conversation about this nightmare with a friend of mine, and I referenced playground politics. For me, this sums it up. Because it doesn’t feel like a train. I’m an adept rider; pains, nerve damage and all, I can keep my balance, squeeze into the most narrow space between two man-spreaders if it means a seat, and throw myself through the closing doors without getting my purse caught. This is more like a throwback to childhood, a concrete lunchtime playground where girls have cooties and with a choice between splintered seesaws, dodgeball, and a cement water fountain that dribbles rust. So here we are, this cycle of American politics where might makes right and he who spreads the most outlandish, the most vicious rumors wins. Where is the lunch aid? Where are the teachers? Where are the grown-ups?
As I’ve said previously, I like Bernie. I never thought he was a perfect candidate, and I had questions, but I thought he was the best choice. For a moment, I thought he had a real shot. That moment is over. I don’t love Hillary. I have a lot of questions and reservations about her that I don’t want to have. (I’m a feminist ferchistssake, a woman for President? Yes, please.) But I’m not hesitating to support her, especially when I look at the alternative. The alternative isn’t Bernie Sanders, it’s Donald Trump. A man whose positions take us from an unsupervised playground to Lord of the Flies.
While I wasn’t blogging, I did more reading than I’d done in a while. I even decided to read Infinite Jest, it’d been on my to-read list forever, and it seemed like the perfect time. I got about 600 pages in, and spent a good 500 of those pages feeling certain that I’m an idiot, because I didn’t get it. Not that I wasn’t able to follow the storyline, I was. Not that I didn’t notice and appreciate some lovely sharp prose, I did. But I really, really don’t understand the how/why this novel became the lauded, prized bestseller that it did. So I gave up, once again determined to accept that I’m just not that smart, and clearly incapable of understanding the publishing industry. If a friend had written it and given me the manuscript to beta read, I’d have suggested cutting about 500 of the 1200 pages. But the timing of my attempt to read this was perfect for today’s political climate, because today is when we are living the backstory of Infinite Jest. If Donald Trump becomes President of the United States, we will slide right into Subsidized Time, and tomorrow will become the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. I may not be smart enough to slog through all 1200 pages, but I’m smart enough to know I don’t want to live inside them.
You’re frustrated? Me too. You’re broke? Me too. You’re tired of the status quo? Me too. But my eyes are open. And what I see is hideous. A circle has gathered around the combover playground bully. The circle is growing, gathering legitimacy and support, and it’s feeding on greed, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and wishful thinking. I know some people speak of idyllic childhoods and pine for their lost youth. Me? I was glad to leave the playground behind, and I don’t want to return. The lunch aid isn’t coming. We have to turn away from the childish blowhards telling us might makes right, get on the train before it derails completely, and be the grown-ups. We may or may not be in the gifted program, but we’re smart enough to recognize the stench of fresh shit.